With the resurgence of COVID-19 and the concern around the Omicron variant, Premier Doug Ford and his advisors took to the media studio at Queen’s Park to announce a major shift in direction. Starting Monday, everyone over the age of 18 in Ontario will be eligible for their third shot of a COVID-19 vaccine even if its been just three months after completing their first two shots. There are also some other new developments to note.
“Omicron is now on the verge of becoming the dominant strain of COVID in Ontario, in fact, it may already be. But let me be clear, just because this new enemy is on the offense, that does not mean we can sit back and play defense,” said Ford, who appeared over two hours delayed after his originally scheduled news conference. “We will meet this new enemy with full force because right now, the best defense is a lightning-fast offense, and that is what we’re doing right now.”
Ford encouraged all people 50 and over to use the next few days to make sure they’ve got their boosters in anticipation of the deluge come Monday. Here in Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, the phone lines at Public Health have been jammed with the announcement of each new change to eligibility. Ford promised “additional channels” and that more pharmacies will begin offering shots so that everyone can get a booster as soon as possible.
At the same time, the Province has now lowered the eligibility for a third dose to just three months, or 84 days, after receiving a second shot. That’s effective immediately. Ford was asked why the increase to three months between shots, and why now the sudden urgency to expand booster availability to everyone, but Ford just said that it’s his intention to lead the world in booster shots.
Along with the new booster strategy, Ontario will put a 50 per cent capacity limit on indoor venues of more than 1,000 people starting Saturday at midnight, including sports and rec facilities, performance venues, concert halls, cinemas, casinos, science centres, museums, and exhibition spaces. When asked about putting capacity limits on restaurants and bars, Ford said that the large venues presented the greater threat.
“You’ve got to target the largest venues like sports games and large concerts because people aren’t masking, and you’re sitting side by side for hours. Comparing that to a restaurant is apples and bananas,” Ford explained. “They have strict protocols in these restaurants, and they’ve done an incredible job. They’re spacing people out, and people are masked unless they’re eating. There’s a big difference between a restaurant and 20,000 people in an arena.”
Finally, the government announced that they are undertaking an enhanced testing strategy. Two million rapid tests will be provided free of charge at high-traffic settings like malls, retail settings, holiday markets, libraries, and transit hubs, and there will also be 50 pop-up testing location across the province including some co-located at GO-VAXX mobile vaccination buses. Take-home rapid tests will also be made available at LCBO stores starting with the busiest locations this week.
For the first time in public, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore confirmed that he is concerned about airborne spread of the Omicron variant. In other words, it’s not just the droplets people have to be concerned about.
“We’re very concerned that there could be much more aerosol spread than other strains,” Moore said. “We always assumed that there was a component of spread, but because Omicron is so much more rapidly spreading than Delta, we want to decrease the number of people in those high access areas.”
Moore said that along with booster shots and testing, people have to observe the primary, every day forms of prevention. “We all have to wear our masks, practice our distancing, and do good hand hygiene. It’s a multi component strategy that all Ontarians are used to and that we need to absolutely adhere to in the face of Omicron,” Moore explained. “Because I do think the risk is higher, that it spreads more distantly and in smaller droplets, we need more science on that, but we’re taking a very cautious approach in Ontario.”
As for other measures, Ford said “everything’s on the table” but it also sounded like some options were more on the table than others. “Locking ourselves down out of this isn’t the solution,” Ford said. “The solution is making sure everyone goes out and gets a booster shot in every corner of this province, and that’s our plan.”