The Ontario government has issued several new COVID-19 public health measures that includes moving schools online, closures and capacity limits for businesses as the province struggles to contain the spread of Omicron.
Students and staff will not be returning to in-person learning this week. Schools will switch to remote learning starting on Wednesday for at least two weeks.
“All publicly funded and private schools will move to remote learning starting January 5 until at least January 17, subject to public health trends and operational considerations,” the government said.
However, school buildings will be open for child-care operations, including emergency child care and for in-person instruction for students with special needs who cannot learn remotely.
The move comes as Ontario’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore just days before, on Thursday, said students would return to the classroom after the holiday break. He gave a two-day extension so that schools and parents could prepare.
But as of Monday, Premier Doug Ford said students will not be in class and will begin 2022 learning virtually.
Ford made the announcement alongside Moore, Health Minister Christine Elliott, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenflavy and CEO of Ontario Health Matt Anderson.
Ontario implements more capacity limits, closures for businesses
Ford also issued several new measures and capacity limits for Ontario businesses, beginning Wednesday, Jan. 5 at 12:01 a.m. These measures will be in place for at least 21 days (until Jan. 26):
There will be no more indoor dining at restaurants.
Outdoor dining with restrictions is permitted as well as takeout and drive-thru options.
Sale of alcohol will be restricted after 10 p.m. and consumption on premises must end at 11 p.m. There are exceptions for delivery and take out.
Gyms are ordered to close. This includes any indoor sport and recreational facilities with the exception of athletes training for the Olympics or Paralympics and other select athletes.
All retail settings and public libraries will be capped at 50 per cent capacity. Food courts at malls will be required to close.
Personal care services will be restricted to 50 per cent capacity.
Indoor gatherings and indoor organized public events will be limited to five people. Outdoor gatherings will be restricted to 10 people.
Indoor meeting and event spaces are closed “with limited exceptions” but outdoor spaces are allowed to remain open with restrictions.
Indoor weddings, funerals and other religious services are capped at 50 per cent capacity of the particular room. Outdoor services are limited to the number of people that can maintain two metres of physical distancing.
The province is ordering the following to be closed: concert venues, theatres, cinemas, museums, galleries, zoos, science centres, landmarks, historic sites, botanical gardens and similar attractions, amusement parks and waterparks, tour and guide services and fairs, rural exhibitions, festivals, indoor horse racing tracks, car racing tracks and other similar venues.
Where possible, employers should require employees to work from home, unless the nature of their work requires them to be on-site.
A full list of new measures and restrictions can be found here.
The province is calling the new measures “time-limited” and a “modified Step Two of the Roadmap to Reopen,” a similar model seen in the spring/summer of 2021 when Ontario emerged from the third wave.
Ontario reissues directive for hospitals to pause all non-urgent surgeries, procedures
Also beginning on Wednesday, Jan. 5 the province is re-instating that hospitals pause all non-emergent and non-urgent surgeries and produces in order to preserve the health-care system.
The government said the directive is due to the highly infectious Omicron variant which has infected Ontarians at a rate never seen before.
CEO of Ontario Health Matt Anderson said a typical week would see about 8,000 to 10,000 of those surgeries that would be impacted by this pause.
“We’re gonna get hit like a tsunami,” Ford said Monday. “I also said brace for impact because some people don’t understand the volume that’s going to hit us.”
“The evidence tells us that about one per cent of people who get Omicron will end up in the hospital,” Ford said. “Our public health experts tell us we could see hundreds of thousands of cases every single day. One per cent of hundreds of thousands is too many new patients for our hospitals to handle.”
On Monday, Ontario reported 13,578 new cases with 16,714 on Sunday and a record-breaking 18,445 new cases on Saturday as daily case counts continue to hover at unprecedented levels.
Hospitalizations and those in ICUs are on the rise as cases surge. For example, a week ago general hospitalizations due to COVID-19 were at 480 and on Monday reached 1,232. Those with COVID in ICUs were at 176 last Monday and are now at 248 this Monday.
The province said with such a rapid rise in cases that hospitalizations will also rise quickly.
“For example, 50,000 cases per day would mean 500 hospital admissions per day, which is greater than the peak daily hospitalizations of 265 per day from last spring, when hospitals were under significant strain during the third wave of the pandemic,” the government said.
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