Ontario has hit a record high number of COVID-19 cases — 2,553 reported Tuesday — as pre-Christmas shopping was blamed in part for the spike in cases in Toronto.
“Ontario is reporting our highest number of new, daily COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began,” Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the province’s associate chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday from Queen’s Park.
The 2,553 cases, she added, came with “a total record high per cent positivity rate at 9.7 per cent, following (Monday’s) high rate of 8.6 per cent.”
She said the numbers released Tuesday “would not be related to the Christmas holiday; it is too early for us to be seeing the result of any get-togethers that may have occurred. But what we have learned from our colleagues at Toronto Public Health is that the increase in their daily numbers can be, in part, attributed to pre-Christmas shopping trips, shopping trips often in groups.”
Toronto reported a big jump in cases: 895, up from 412 on Dec. 28 and 572 on Dec. 27, and Yaffe said it remains to be seen whether this is a trend or an anomaly.
A province-wide lockdown came into effect on Boxing Day, Premier Doug Ford saying “this difficult action is without a doubt necessary to save lives and prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed in the coming weeks.”
The move put into place a number of restrictions already happening in Toronto, Peel, York, Hamilton and Windsor, including a ban on indoor and outdoor dining, as well as limiting retail activities.
“Make no mistake, thousands of lives are at stake right now,” Ford said before Christmas. “If we fail to take action now, the consequences could be catastrophic … The health officials are telling us that province-wide action is needed if we’re going to break these trends.”
The lockdown will last until Jan. 9 across the province, but extend to Jan. 23 for southern Ontario where numbers continue to climb.
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The province’s previous record for COVID-19 was Dec. 24, with 2,447 cases recorded.
“In fact, with the exception of (Monday), Ontario has recorded over 2,000 cases daily since Dec. 15 with an average of 32 deaths a day,” Yaffe also said, with hospitalizations and intensive-care unit admissions also high.
“We cannot forget that (the data) represent people — people who have been impacted by the virus and, in too many cases, lost their lives,” Yaffe said. “So while I understand that the lockdown measures that came into effect on Dec. 26 are not what we want to be living through right now, this is what we need to do, what we must do, to slow the transmission of this infection.”
There are now three confirmed cases of a new variant of COVID-19 from the United Kingdom here in Ontario, Yaffe said, with one individual in Ottawa who recently travelled from the U.K, and two cases in Durham connected to contact with someone who had also been there.
“Discovering this strain emphasizes the importance for travellers to maintain their 14-day quarantine and a reminder to everyone that public health measure in place are protective against that variant.”
She urged Ontarians to remain home on New Year’s Eve to help stop the spread of COVID.
“As we look ahead to Thursday night and the promise of a new year — a new year with more and more people being immunized against COVID-19 — please remember that we are not over the side of the mountain just yet,” she said. “We still have some kilometres to climb before we can go safely down the other side.
“Please celebrate this coming new year with all the optimism and hope that it deserves, but do so with great care.”
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy
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