Our brief flirtation with re-opening the economy is over, and the third wave is officially here. That seems to be the news as the holiday weekend begins with the announcement that all 34 of Ontario’s public health authorities will be initiating a province-wide emergency break on Saturday April 3 at 12:01 am. The rapidly increasing COVID-19 case counts cannot be denied, and the Ontario government is taking drastic action.
“We are facing a serious situation and drastic measures are required to contain the rapid spread of the virus, especially the new variants of concern,” said Premier Doug Ford in a statement. “I know pulling the emergency brake will be difficult on many people across the province, but we must try and prevent more people from getting infected and overwhelming our hospitals.
“Our vaccine rollout is steadily increasing, and I encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated. That is our best protection against this deadly virus,” Ford added.
Ford and the Ontario government said that they have no choice in this situation. Since last weekend, provincial COVID case rates have increased by 7.7 per cent to 101.1 cases per 100,000 people. ICU admissions are peaking and are now projected to exceed 650 beds in a few weeks. The priority now, according to Ford, is to keep hospital admissions down so that the healthcare system isn’t overwhelmed.
According to Public Health Ontario, there were 2,557 new cases in the province on Thursday, which is more than double the new daily case count from just two weeks ago. Of the total new cases, over 1,400 were in Toronto, Peel and York alone, while Durham Region, Halton, Hamilton, and Ottawa are still hot spots with new cases in the three figures.
“In the last few weeks a significant increase in COVID-19 cases and variants of concern has been observed across Ontario which has put considerable strain on our public health and health care systems,” said Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health.
Starting on Saturday, indoor and outdoor dining is shut down, and so are recreation facilities, personal care services, and Spring Break day camps. Essential retail is now limited to 50 per cent capacity and non-essential retails is limited to 25, while religious services, wedding and funerals are back to being limited to 15 per cent capacity. Indoor and outdoor social gatherings are now limited to five people.
“Ontario, like many other provinces and jurisdictions around the world, is in the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and immediate action is required to help turn the tide,” said Minister of Health Christine Elliott. “Implementing a province-wide emergency brake was not an easy decision to make and is not one we take lightly.”
In Guelph, all City museums and recreation facilities will close until at least May 3, and anyone that paid for any recreation programs in April will be eligible for a refund. Parks, playgrounds, trails and the skate park will remain open, and so will City Hall and the provincial offences court. The Farmers’ Market will also open Saturday for up to 50 people at a time. The Guelph Public Library will be returning to curbside pick-up at all branches.
“COVID-19 has been so hard on people, families and businesses already. This is such a disappointing setback, but I understand it’s necessary to get control of this virus and variants of concern,” said Mayor Cam Guthrie in a statement. “I know people are tired of hearing it – I’m tired of saying it. Guelph knows how to slow the spread, and we have to keep up the fight until we’re vaccinated this fall.”
The emergency might hit Guelph and area especially hard because it was just a few weeks ago that Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph entered the orange level. On March 19, there were 21 new cases and 114 active cases along with a 7-day moving rate of confirmed cases at 32.7 per 100,000, and a test positivity rate of 1.4 per cent. On Thursday, there were 45 new cases of COVID-19 and 167 active cases, while the 7-day moving rate at 42 per 100,000, while the test positivity is 1.9 per cent.
As the government said, the hope now is for the rapid distribution of vaccines. WDG Public Health is currently outpacing both Ontario and Canada at vaccine distribution with 19,517 shots per 100,000 people versus 17,828 in Ontario and 18,250 in Canada. In all, 17.3 per cent of the region’s population has been given one shot, while nearly 51,000 total shots have now been given out.
In the meantime, several politicians are making the point that Ontario businesses are going to need help if they’re going to see the end of this new lockdown, and Guelph MPP and Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner is among them. “I fear the impact on small businesses will worsen with this shutdown and the government needs to do more,” Schreiner said. “I’m calling on the Premier to extend the Small Business Grant for another round of funding and to expand the eligibility criteria.”
“I’m also calling for a safe workplaces plan to protect essential workers in vulnerable workplaces. We know where the majority of COVID spread is happening, so why is there no targeted approach?” Schreiner added. “We need to vaccinate essential workers in the highest risk communities, and legislate paid sick days and paid time off for workers to get vaccinated.”