Ontario Government Releases Pandemic Models, Changes Essential List

As promised, Premier Doug Ford released the modelling data and projections that have formed his government’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic. Accordingly, the numbers paint a pretty grim picture of the worse case scenario, and along with these new raised concerns, the government has also taken action to rein in the number of businesses that are still allowed to remain open as we enter the fourth week of lockdown.

“The models show that the potential to spread COVID-19 is massive and deadly if we don’t act swiftly to stay home and practice physical distancing,” said Ford. “We owe it to our frontline and essential workers, to our family, friends and neighbours to restrict our travel, and act responsibly. This is the only way we are going to minimize the risk to people, stop the spread and reduce the number of fatalities.”

The models released by the Ontario government Friday show that all Ontarians over the age of 60 face a higher risk of the most severe symptoms of the disease, and without mitigation efforts, it would lead to much higher mortality rates. How high? An estimated 300,000 cases and an estimated deal toll of 6,000 people.

On Friday, the number of COVID-19 cases in Ontario sat at over 3,200, plus 67 fatalities.

Without the measures already taken, the province would have suffered 4,400 deaths and 220,000 cases of COVID-19 Ontario-wide, according to the report. Current projections peg the total loss of life from the novel coronavirus between 3,000 and 15,000 deaths, but with further action to create social distance, and stop inter-personal contact, there could be 12,500 fewer cases, and 200 fewer deaths by the end of April.

“We feel is it important to be transparent with the public about the challenges we are facing, and the important work we all need to do to flatten the curve,” said Dr. Peter Donnelly, President and CEO of Public Health Ontario. “How this outbreak unfolds is in the hands of the public, in all of your hands. We can change the outcomes by how we all stay at home and physically distance ourselves.”

The Province’s health authorities are reminding everyone again to wash your hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer; sneeze and cough into your sleeve; avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth; avoid contact with people who are sick; and stay home if you are sick.

The government’s breakdown of their models can be found here.

“The models show that the potential to spread COVID-19 is massive and deadly if we don’t act swiftly to stay home and practise physical distancing,” said Ford in his statement. “We owe it to our frontline and essential workers, to our family, friends and neighbours to restrict our travel, and act responsibly. This is the only way we are going to minimize the risk to people, stop the spread and reduce the number of fatalities.”

As the Ontario government released the reasons why they were taking the stringent actions that they’re pursuing, at the same time on Friday they also tightened the list of businesses that they’ve deemed as essential in the midst of the pandemic.

“We are facing a critical moment in the fight against COVID-19 and we must do everything in our power to keep everyone safe and healthy and prevent our health care system from being overwhelmed,” said Ford. “Everyone must do their part to stop the spread and flatten the curve. If you are not an essential business, you need to close your doors, work from home if possible and play a role to help contain this outbreak. This is a matter of life and death.”

The new list of essential businesses has been paired down from the original 74 categories to just 44, and the province is asking those newly non-essential businesses to close by midnight on Saturday. All industrial construction will be stopped, and no new residential construction will be allowed to begin. Only essential infrastructure-related projects will be allowed to proceed.

In terms of changes to retail, stores that sell hardware products, office supplies, computer equipment, auto parts, and pet and animal supplies will now have to be closed. Stores that are able to deliver products will be allowed to continue sales, but the government is warning that they will be harsh on those that break the rules.

“If you’re a worker on the frontlines of this outbreak, you should know we’re doing everything in our power to keep you safe at work,” said Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development. “We’re beefing up our inspectors and making it easier for you to report your concerns. We’re working around the clock.”

Indeed, the Province has announced that they are adding more than 60 special consultants and officers, and doubling the number of phone agents at its Health and Safety Call Centre to 50. Workers who feel that they’re working in unsafe conditions are being asked to call 1-877-202-0008. If you’re unsure if your business is still classified as essential, you can call the Stop the Spread hotline at 1-888-444-3659 weekdays from 8:30 am to 9 pm, and weekends from 8:30 am to 5 pm.

The provincial government has been under of pressure lately to rein in their previously expansive list of essential businesses. On Wednesday, Guelph MPP and Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner called on the government to reduce the number of businesses that are allowed to remain open, citing the advice of medical professionals.

“Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health made it clear that we are on the wrong trajectory and stiffer measures are needed to limit the spread of COVID-19,” Schreiner said in a statement. “We are doing an injustice to health workers combating this pandemic by allowing gaps in our containment efforts with so many businesses to remain open.”

The amended list of essential businesses can be found here.

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