OTTAWA — Canada’s holiday season will be even quieter this year as Ontario, by far the country’s most-populous province, announces weeks of stricter coronavirus lock-downs starting Dec. 26.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford made the announcement Monday as his province — and much of Canada — deals with a stubborn resurgence of Covid-19. The province is home to nearly 39 percent of all Canadians.
“We’ve seen in other jurisdictions what out-of-control caseloads and deaths look like,” Ford told reporters. “Thousands of lives are at stake right now. If we fail to take action now the consequences could be catastrophic.”
Ford spoke hours after a top provincial health official warned Ontario’s ability to control Covid-19’s spread was still “very precarious.”
Following Quebec’s lead: Ontario followed neighboring Quebec, which reintroduced tougher measures at the start of the holiday season. Quebec, which is the country’s second-most populous province, is cracking down on private gatherings for the vast majority of Quebecers between Dec. 17 and Jan. 10.
Combined, Ontario and Quebec are home to more than 23 million people or just above 60 percent of Canada’s population.
The Ontario’s shutdowns: The new restrictions will be in place for four weeks in the province’s much more densely populated south, which includes cities like Toronto and Ottawa. In the smaller cities and communities of northern Ontario, containment measures will apply for two weeks.
The measures go into effect at 12:01 a.m. ET on Dec. 26.
They include shutting down in-person shopping at most retail stores, prohibiting indoor and outdoor dining, restricting indoor access to shopping malls and limiting gatherings to members of the same household.
Asked why Ontario did not impose the tougher measures immediately, Ford said he wanted to give some breathing room to businesses. He added that he wants to be fair to businesses with big inventories as well as those that will be forced to shut down for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
A look at Ontario: The pandemic has been applying significant pressure on Ontario’s health care system. Ford said in recent weeks hospitalizations were up 70 percent and intensive care admissions rose 80 percent.
“Our ability to control case growth is still very precarious,” Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of Ontario’s Covid-19 science advisory table, told a press conference Monday after releasing updated models for the province. “This continued low-level growth that we’ve seen is just adding greater and greater pressures and removing more and more of our ability to control the growth of the pandemic.”
Brown, who is also dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, said the case growth of around one percent has remained consistent for about the last two months despite authorities’ warnings about the situation.
“In terms of the length of the lock-down, … we don’t believe anything less than four weeks will be effective and longer durations will be more effective — six weeks gives a significant added likely reduction in case numbers,” he said.
Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, has been a bright spot in the province in terms of getting Covid under control. But Ford said despite its resilience Ottawa will also be under lock-down out of concern about a potential influx of visitors from nearby Quebec.
Canada’s Covid-19 status: The country has seen an average of 177.8 new Covid cases daily during the past seven days, according Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center data compiled by the National Bank of Canada.
In comparison, the same set of data said an average of 654.9 new cases have been reported each day of the past week in the United States.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said Monday that the country has reported 507,795 cases since the start of the pandemic and 14,228 deaths. Health authorities are also monitoring the genetic variant of the virus that causes Covid-19 that was identified in the United Kingdom.
Ford said he’s also “extremely alarmed” by reports of a new strain of the virus that is much more contagious. He called it an “extremely serious threat” that must be taken seriously.
He urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to impose tougher measures at Toronto’s Pearson airport, where he said 63,000 per week have been arriving from abroad.
Ford said he’s been asking the Trudeau government for “weeks upon weeks” about getting testing at the airport.
“Why they’re ignoring us on this is beyond me,” said Ford, adding that not enough people coming into the country are sticking to the quarantine rules. “These people are roaming the streets and we’re letting it happen.”
Economic consequences: Canada’s economy, like so many around the world, has taken a beating from coronavirus lockdowns.
Small- and medium-sized businesses have been among the hardest hit and the prospect of additional weeks of restrictions is feeding fears of more economic damage.
“Regardless of whether you support or oppose additional lock-downs in Ontario, spare a thought for the 1000s of small business owners who will lose everything they’ve worked for as a result of this decision,” Dan Kelly, the president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business wrote Monday on Twitter. “Biz owners are hanging by a thread & the Ontario govt is about to cut it.”