Province moves back to “Step 2” COVID restrictions, schools to stay closed

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Warning of a possible “tsunami” of COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks, Premier Doug Ford announced Monday that the province is moving back to “Step 2” of closings and public gathering limits.

Ford also announced that schools will remain closed and students will switch to online learning starting this Wednesday, January 5 until “at least” Monday, January 17.

Gathering limits will be reduced to five people indoors and 10 people outdoors, while indoor dining will be closed once again and retail stores, personal care services, and churches will be limited to 50 per cent capacity.

“These decisions will disappoint some people, confuse some people, and anger some people,” Ford said.

“I understand all those reactions. As premier, these are the hardest decisions I make, but we follow the data, and the fact is this: omicron spreads like wildfire, and if we don’t act, if we don’t do everything possible to get this variant under control, the results could be catastrophic.

“It’s a risk I cannot take,” he added, “not after what we have been through and what we’ve been able to accomplish together.”

Ford said the province is entering the third calendar year of the pandemic.

“We want this to be the year when we finally win the war against COVID and begin the road to recovery,” he said.

“To do that, we must show more determination, more resolve than ever before.

“It has never been easy and it’s won’t start now, but we can and we will get through this.”

Ford said that putting “targeted and time-limited measures” in place will give the province “more opportunity to deliver vaccines to all Ontarians and ensure everyone has maximum protection against this virus.”

In an announcement, the province said that unlike other variants throughout the pandemic, evolving data is showing that “while the Omicron variant is less severe, its high transmissibility has resulted in a larger number of hospital admissions relative to ICU admissions.”

“Staff absenteeism is also expected to rise and affect operations in workplaces across Ontario due to Omicron infection and exposure, including in hospitals and schools.

“Real-world experience and evidence in Ontario reveal that approximately one per cent of Omicron cases require hospital care.

“The rapid rise of Omicron cases, which may soon number in the hundreds of thousands, could result in the province’s hospital capacity becoming overwhelmed if further action isn’t taken to curb transmission.

“When one in 100 cases goes to hospital, it means that with this rapid increase in transmission the number of new cases requiring hospitalization will also rapidly increase daily.

“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 full list of measures announced Monday include:

  • Reducing social gathering limits to five people indoors and 10 people outdoors.
  • Limiting capacity at organized public events to five people indoors.
  • Requiring businesses and organizations to ensure employees work remotely unless the nature of their work requires them to be on-site.
  • Limiting capacity at indoor weddings, funerals, and religious services, rites and ceremonies to 50 per cent capacity of the particular room. Outdoor services are limited to the number of people that can maintain 2 metres of physical distance. Social gatherings associated with these services must adhere to the social gathering limits.
  • Retail settings, including shopping malls, permitted at 50 per cent capacity. For shopping malls physical distancing will be required in line-ups, loitering will not be permitted and food courts will be required to close.
  • Personal care services permitted at 50 per cent capacity and other restrictions. Saunas, steam rooms, and oxygen bars closed.
  • Closing indoor meeting and event spaces with limited exceptions but permitting outdoor spaces to remain open with restrictions.
  • Public libraries limited to 50 per cent capacity.
  • Closing indoor dining at restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments. Outdoor dining with restrictions, takeout, drive through and delivery is permitted.
  • Restricting the sale of alcohol after 10 pm and the consumption of alcohol on-premise in businesses or settings after 11 pm with delivery and takeout, grocery/convenience stores and other liquor stores exempted.
  • Closing indoor concert venues, theatres, cinemas, rehearsals and recorded performances permitted with restrictions.
  • Closing museums, galleries, zoos, science centres, landmarks, historic sites, botanical gardens and similar attractions. Outdoor establishments permitted to open with restrictions.
  • Closing indoor horse racing tracks, car racing tracks and other similar venues. Outdoor establishments permitted to open with restrictions and with spectator occupancy limited to 50 per cent capacity.
  • Closing indoor sport and recreational fitness facilities including gyms, except for athletes training for the Olympics and Paralympics and select professional and elite amateur sport leagues. Outdoor facilities are permitted to operate but with the number of spectators not to exceed 50 per cent occupancy and other requirements.
  • 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.
  • School buildings would be permitted to open for child care operations, including emergency child care, to provide in-person instruction for students with special education needs who cannot be accommodated remotely, and for staff who are unable to deliver quality instruction from home.
  • During this period of remote learning, free emergency child care will be provided for school-aged children of health care and other eligible frontline workers.

The measures take effect at 12:01 Wednesday, January 15 and except for remote learning, will be in effect for three weeks until January 26.

“As cases continue to rise at a rapid rate and evidence on the Omicron variant evolves, additional time-limited measures are needed to help limit transmission as Team Ontario continues to get booster doses into arms,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health.

“While this was not an easy decision, these measures will help preserve hospital bed capacity and prevent our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.”

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