Premier Doug Ford is warning of another lockdown as the number of COVID-19 patients surges at the end of a month that has seen cases almost double, creating a third wave.
“Folks, be prepared. Don’t make plans for Easter,” he said Tuesday as Ontario reported 2,336 new infections and hospitals reported their largest one-day influx of intensive-care patients of the pandemic, fuelled by more contagious variants that cause more serious illness.
“I won’t hesitate to lock things down if we have to,” added Ford. “Everything’s on the table.”
The premier’s acknowledgment that he is “extremely concerned” about case levels and the rising number of younger adults requiring hospital care comes less than two weeks after his government eased restrictions.
For example, the number of indoor diners at restaurants and bars in areas like Halton, Durham and York no longer in lockdown was allowed to rise and outdoor patios were cleared to open in lockdown zones such as Toronto and Peel.
The government also indicated last Friday that barber shops, hair and nail salons in lockdown areas could reopen April 12, although Ontario’s chief medical officer, Dr. David Williams, cautioned Monday that is dependent on COVID-19 trends.
Ford said those changes were all approved by Williams in consultation with local medical officers in Toronto and Peel at the time, but the situation has changed.
“We’re letting down our guard a bit. We just can’t do that,” he added, repeating medical advice that people not gather indoors with anyone outside their household. “Don’t be hanging out this weekend.”
Previous holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas have led to increases in infection levels.
Critics said Ford — who has been trying to strike a balance between public health, the economy and jobs — should have known better than to ease restrictions too much since he lifted a province-wide stay-at-home order in February.
“The half measures the government is utilizing are not working,” said Green Leader Mike Schreiner, calling for stronger restrictions in hot spot areas.
Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott said the government has already been using “emergency brake” powers to put regions into higher levels of restrictions, including the London area on Tuesday.
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An additional 46 patients across Ontario required intensive care on Monday, a figure about one-third higher than the seven-day average of 32. Hospitals saw a jump of 249 people admitted for COVID-19, pushing the total above 1,000 for the first time in weeks. There were 14 deaths.
Front-line physicians have reported younger adults more seriously ill in intensive care in recent weeks, in a trend that appears to be building.
At Michael Garron Hospital, critical-care specialist Dr. Michael Warner said Tuesday the ICU now has 10 COVID-19 patients, up from just one a week ago. The average age is 53.
The science table of experts advising Ford — which will present its latest modelling on the trajectory of the pandemic on Thursday — released figures on Monday night showing the proportion of patients under the age of 60 in ICU is 50 per cent higher than it was before the Boxing Day lockdown.
As well, the science table’s paper found variants account for more than six in 10 new cases, with a risk of hospitalization that is 63 per cent higher and the risk of ICU admission up 103 per cent, along with a 56 per cent increased risk of death.
Ford’s delay of about a week in imposing the Boxing Day lockdown was widely criticized given trends at the time, which resulted in a stricter province-wide shutdown and emergency stay-at-home order Jan. 12.
The premier has been repeating the same mistake lately, allowing the COVID-19 to regain the upper hand, said Liberal MPP John Fraser (Ottawa South), his party’s health critic.
“The slower you go, the faster it goes.”
Intensive-care admissions for COVID-19 have risen by almost one-third in the last week, and there were 410 such patients in critical care, slightly below the peak of 420 reached during the second wave in January.
That’s a level where most non-emergency surgeries, including for cancer and heart disease, screech to a halt, adding to a backlog of 250,000 procedures in the pandemic.
With hospitalizations lagging new infections by about two weeks, health-care experts fear intensive care units will swell to even higher levels of COVID-19 patients in April.
“We are in big trouble,” Brad Wouters, executive vice-president of science and research at the University Health Network, said on Twitter.
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1
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