Ontario residents dealt with their first day under a stay-at-home order Thursday, while federal officials warned that access to vaccines in Canada will remain a challenge until at least April.
Kristen Bones was at an outdoor rink at Toronto’s Greenwood Park at about noon, when a few dozen people laced up their skates and hit the ice.
“You really don’t know what the restrictions are. It’s kind of confusing to us,” Bones said about a lack of clarity around Ontario’s new COVID-19 rules.
Bones added that she is unsure if her son, who is an only child, can spend time with his small group of friends.
Grade 11 student James Rota, who took a lunch break at a Toronto dog park, said going outside provides needed relief from the pressures of online classes.
“I feel like it’s pretty safe to be out here and it’s good for the mental health.”
The stay-at-home order came into effect as Ontario reported 62 more deaths and 3,326 new novel coronavirus infections.
COVID-19 cases, including a new United Kingdom variant, are increasing rapidly in Ontario.
Other new health measures make it mandatory for people to wear masks inside businesses and restrict the size of gatherings. Non-essential retail stores may only open between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Premier Doug Ford has said everyone must stay home and only go out for essential trips.
Canada has seen daily averages of 7,727 cases of COVID-19 in the last week, and hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise.
In Quebec, where the government brought in a curfew last weekend, hospitalizations continued to rise to 1,523, with 230 people in intensive care. The province also reported 2,132 new cases and 64 more deaths.
Quebec’s health minister announced a new vaccine strategy of waiting up to 90 days before giving booster shots to patients who have received a first dose. Christian Dube said that will allow the province to vaccinate more vulnerable seniors and reduce pressure on the health-care system.
Dube said the 90-day interval will be reduced once more vaccines are available.
Canada’s vaccine advisory committee has recommended the second dose of approved COVID-19 vaccines be given no later than 42 days after the first.
Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said there is not enough data to show the efficacy of the vaccines when the second dose is given beyond that time frame.
Njoo said a steady supply of the vaccine is still months away, so people must continue to take precautions as they wait their turn.
“This is a difficult and pivotal point for Canadians.”
Canada is to have received a total of 929,000 doses of the two approved COVID-19 vaccines by the end of the week. Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics at the Public Health Agency of Canada, said that includes delivery of 380,000 doses this week.
Fortin said Canada expects to receive more than one million doses a week of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines beginning in April.
“This will signal our transition to the ramp-up stage,” Fortin said Thursday.
Limited supply will remain a significant issue for the time being, and the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians has called for a clear description of who is being prioritized for first doses and why.
It said Wednesday in a statement that many members in areas with limited human resources have not been vaccinated, while urban providers who have less patient contact appear to have received shots.
Many doctors don’t know when they will be vaccinated and the association said that needs to change.
As Quebec and Ontario continued to face a significant surge of infections, British Columbia Premier John Horgan said his government is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit non-essential travel.
Current public-health orders advise B.C. residents not to travel for vacations, recreation or social visits, but Horgan said people are doing it anyway.
He said they are travelling from hard-hit areas of Canada and bringing the virus to B.C.
“We’ve tried our best to appeal to people’s common sense.”
B.C. reported 536 more infections and seven new deaths. Health officials said the first case of the first South African strain of the virus has been identified in the province and there are now four cases with the U.K. variant.
The Atlantic provinces formed a bubble that limited travel and COVID-19 infections have remained relatively low in the region. There were four active cases across Newfoundland and Labrador on Thursday and 32 in Nova Scotia.
New Brunswick had the most with 246 active cases and more than 2,000 people in self-isolation. Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer, expressed concern over high infection rates to the north in Quebec and to the west, across the United States border, in Maine. “Our neighbours’ houses are on fire and the hot embers are flying onto our roof,” Russell said. “If we don’t take necessary actions to keep this fire at bay, it will engulf as well.”
In an approach that differs from elsewhere in the country, Alberta announced it would be easing some restrictions next week.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro said starting Monday, personal and wellness services, including hair salons and tattoo parlours, can open by appointment only.
Outdoor social gatherings will be allowed in groups of up to 10 people and the limit for funerals will increase to 20 people.
New daily cases have fallen slightly in the province. Alberta reported 967 new cases of COVID-19 and 21 additional deaths.
Shandro said the small adjustments to the restrictions implemented in December will allow people to take part in some activities. But, he said, the virus is still a real risk.
“While we are are actively looking at what restrictions we are able to ease in the weeks ahead… we need everyone’s co-operation to stay within the rules.”