Premier Doug Ford has issued his strongest warning yet in the pandemic, saying a tougher lockdown is coming amid ever-rising records in new COVID-19 cases and “scary” new computer modelling projections to be detailed early next week.
“There will be further measures because this is getting out of control and we have to do whatever it takes,” he said Friday as associate medical officer Dr. Barbara Yaffe cautioned a return to last spring’s near-total shutdown may be required to prevent hospital intensive care units and morgues from being overwhelmed.
The seven-day moving average of daily new infections is up 37 per cent since New Year’s Day at a pace that is worrying public health officials who fear cases of the more contagious U.K. variant of the virus are going undetected.
“When you see the modelling, you’ll fall off your chair,” Ford added in comments that triggered the ire of critics who questioned why he is delaying new public health restrictions that could save lives.
“I don’t want to wait until Tuesday to fall off my chair,” said New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath. “Ontarians deserve that information now and a government that is prepared to act on that information.”
A government source said modelling experts want to gather a few more days of data before finalizing their latest projections for the trajectory of the virus and its impact on hospitals and nursing homes.
Along with cancelling non-emergency surgeries, hospitals in areas with high COVID case loads are increasingly moving patients to hospitals in other cities with more available capacity, leaving some Ontarians who are ill farther from home.
The province reported a record 4,249 new infections Friday, artificially high because of an extra 450 cases not tabulated by Toronto Public Health earlier in the week, but the tally still boosted the seven-day average of new cases to an all-time high of 3,394.
That is almost 1,000 higher than a week ago, the result of too many people not obeying pandemic guidelines such as not gathering with people from other households, mask wearing and physical distancing over the holidays.
“No matter what the provincial government does…if we don’t have the co-operation of the people this is going to get out of hand,” a frustrated Ford said a day after chief medical officer Dr. David Williams told reporters cases could reach 6,000 to 10,000 daily within two weeks “if everything all goes wild.”
“We don’t want to scare people, but on the other hand I think there’s too much complacency. I understand it, we’re tired, it’s been a long time, people are sick and tired of the whole thing,” said Yaffe.
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“They may not know anyone who’s become ill but, believe me, although it tends to affect more older people, it does affect younger people too.”
Opposition parties accused Ford of again wasting valuable time to get on top of rising community spread that puts the reopening of in-class learning and nursing-home residents in increasing jeopardy.
“This wait-and-see approach by the premier is like a broken record,” said Green Leader Mike Schreiner.
“It’s clear that he has completely lost control over the pandemic and the province’s response has failed,” added Liberal counterpart Steven Del Duca,who urged Ford to call in military help once more to help some of the hardest-hit nursing homes.
With elementary schoolchildren in southern Ontario not slated to return to in-class learning until Jan. 25, the same day as high school students, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said asympomatic testing will be expanded to all schools.
“We’re going well beyond the four highest-risk regions where it exists today,” he said, promising more cleaning, staffing and screening in schools as the province strives to keep them open in the pandemic.
Ford said vaccines remain in short supply but encouraged Ontarians to “hunker down” at home as much as they can until bigger shipments begin arriving in time for spring.
“We have to hang in there until April. April, May and June we’re hoping we’ll get 5 million doses every single month. We’ll be vaccinating — these are staggering numbers — 160,000 people a day across the province,” he pledged.
“We have to get to that point but it’s going to be one heck of a bumpy road.”
He encouraged Health Canada to more quickly clear vaccines, such as one by AstraZeneca, in addition to ones by Pfizer and Moderna that are already approved and being administered to health-care workers and nursing-home residents.
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie
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