If you thought the calendar switching to 2022 meant things would be different, the Ontario government provided a harsh reminder that we’re still in a pandemic by announcing another shutdown due to the Omicron variant.
On Monday, Premier Doug Ford announced that due to the extreme rise in COVID cases, the province would be returning to a modified Stage 2 of the “Roadmap to Reopen” until at least Jan. 26. There’s no indoor dining; no concerts, sports or events; no access to gyms; no ability to get non-emergency surgeries; a 50 per cent capacity limit at all retailers and a maximum of five people gathering indoors and 10 outdoors. And of course, for the families who were told by the government all Christmas break that students would return to in-person learning, that’s no longer the case. Public and private schools across the province will go back to online learning until “at least” Jan. 17. During that period, free emergency childcare will be provided for healthcare workers and other eligible frontline workers with school-aged children.
“These two weeks will provide much needed time for more vaccines, more boosters and more time for additional public health measures to blunt the rapid rise in cases,” said Ford during his Jan. 3 press conference. “I know online learning isn’t ideal but above all else, I want to provide students and parents with certainty, not the turmoil of school closures because not enough staff are available to teach our kids.”
Ontario last exited Stage 2 of the “Roadmap to Reopen” in July 2021 and left Stage 3 in October.
Like previous lockdowns, provincial officials say the main goal of these measures is to avoid putting more strain on our already exhausted healthcare system. Though Omicron is a milder strain of the virus, it’s highly transmissible: there was a record 18,445 new cases in the province on Jan. 1 of this year (and that’s with Public Health Ontario warning that positive cases are going underreported because of a lack of testing).
Because of Omicron’s high rate of transmission, Ontario’s Science Advisory Table said “without prompt intervention, ICU occupancy could reach unsustainable levels in early January,”
all the way back on Dec. 16, 2021. But as we’ve seen before in this pandemic, the provincial government dragged its feet for weeks before announcing drastic changes.
During the Jan. 3 press conference, Ford acknowledged that the shutdowns have been hardest on small businesses and pledged to make grant funding available, but specifics have still not been announced.
The return to Stage 2 came just days after the province updated its COVID testing and self-isolation guidelines. Individuals with COVID-19 who are vaccinated can now end isolation after five days as long as their symptoms have been improving. Publicly funded PCR testing is also being reserved for those in “high-risk” settings: the general public are discouraged from seeking a test. Those that do get a positive result from a rapid antigen test will no longer be required or encouraged to get a confirmatory PCR or rapid molecular test.
Province halts visits to LTCs again
A week before imposing the latest restrictions, the Ontario government announced that long-term care homes would be closed to general visitors as part of temporary measures to “protect the health and safety of residents, staff and caregivers in long-term care homes.”
The news was a bit of a let-down for Au Chateau residents looking to celebrate the New Year with family.