Ontario Premier Doug Ford implored Ontarians to stay home, avoid gatherings, and follow other public health measures — “the best and only defence” available against COVID-19 in the absence of universal vaccine access — as the province recorded a record-breaking number of new infections on Friday.
Ford warned that if those health measures continue to be ignored, the province-wide shutdown won’t end as scheduled at the end of January, and Ontario will have to consider more extreme measures.
Ontario reported a 24-hour total of 4,249 infections on Friday. The tally included approximately 450 cases attributed to a data upload delay at Toronto Public Health, but even discounting those, Friday’s numbers still easily surpass the previous record high of 3,519 cases, reported the day before.
There are 1,446 people hospitalized with COVID-19 across the province (down 26 from the previous day), with 369 in ICU (up six) and 250 on ventilators (up eight). Twenty-six additional COVID-19 deaths were registered Friday. Ottawa Public Health reported 210 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, compared to the provincial report of 154 new cases for the city. (The discrepancy is due to the different times that local and provincial health authorities record their data.)
When it comes to active confirmed cases of the virus, the public health units with the most, adjusted for differences in population, are Windsor-Essex County (421 cases per 100,000 population), Peel (382), Toronto (292), York Region (246), Hamilton (233) and Niagara Region (232). Ottawa, comparatively, has 119 cases per 100,000 people.
In the health unit regions surrounding Ottawa, the confirmed case total rose by 45 Friday in Eastern Ontario, 12 in both Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington and Renfrew County and District, seven in Leeds, Grenville & Lanark and four in Hastings Prince Edward.
Speaking at a Friday morning press conference, Ford said Ontario has ramped up its rollout of COVID-19 vaccines and is quickly running out of doses. The whole province will be out of Pfizer vaccines by the end of next week, he said, and some hospitals, including The Ottawa Hospital, have said they’ll exhaust their vaccine supply by the end of this one.
‘We’re all hopeful the federal government will get us more vaccines,” the premier said. “Without them, hospitals will have to start cancelling appointments and all the progress we’ve made, getting our daily vaccine numbers up, will be lost, as clinics stand by waiting for vaccines from the feds.”
He said he spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Thursday night “about the need for more reliable vaccine supply to meet our rapidly-growing capacity,” later adding that the prime minister is “working his back off, he’s trying his very, very best.”
“It’s not like they have a couple million doses sitting in a freezer up in Ottawa, by no means. He understands the situation we’re all in.”
The premier implored Health Canada to approve the vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, currently under its review. “We’re in desperate need of it,” he said, noting that other health agencies around the world have already done so. Britain was the first of a number of countries to approve the vaccine, but it hasn’t yet been given the green light in the European Union or the U.S.
Ford noted that Ontario has a long way to go before there are enough vaccine doses to immunize everybody.
“Until then, the best and only defence against this terrible enemy are the public health measures.”
Staying home, avoiding gatherings with non-household members, physical distancing, mask-wearing, hand-washing — this protects you and your loved ones, said Ford.
“If these basic measures continue to be ignored, the consequences will be more dire. The shutdown won’t end at the end of January, and we will have to look at more extreme measures. In the meantime, more people will get sick, our hospitals will become overwhelmed. So please, I’m asking all Ontarians, please stay home and save lives.”
He said new modelling will be rolled out early next week, which he described as “a wake-up call” to anyone who’s seen it.
“No matter what the federal government, no matter what the provincial government does, municipal governments, if we don’t have the co-operation of the people, this is going to go out of hand.
“I just can’t stress it enough. Please, please just follow the protocols. We’re in a desperate situation and when you see the modelling, you know, you’ll fall off your chair. Everything is on the table right now, there will be further measures, because this is getting out of control and we have to do whatever it takes.”
At the same press conference, Ontario Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe also asked Ontarians to stick to the current measures — but said she thinks more serious ones need to be considered.
“Perhaps similar to what happened in the spring, and looking at other jurisdictions, what they have done, and what has worked, so that we can get ourselves out of this, with the light at the end of the tunnel as we vaccinate more and more people.”
“Today’s numbers are, to be frank — they are scary,” she said.
Amidst increasing community spread of the virus, there’s also its mutation to consider. Six cases of the more contagious U.K. variant have been identified in Ontario, according to Yaffe, who said there are likely more cases out there. All identified cases have so far been among recent travellers to the U.K. or travellers’ close contacts, and they have maintained their quarantine.
“We may not be so lucky in the future,” she said.
And the U.K. variant isn’t the only one that’s been identified, internationally. South Africa has also discovered a new, more infectious strain.
“We are in a very serious situation. We need to consider all possible measures to contain this infection. We don’t want more people dying, We don’t want the ICUs overwhelmed. We don’t want morgues overwhelmed. And I know we don’t want to scare people. But on the other hand I think there’s too much complacency,” Yaffe said.