Province announces 'emergency brake shutdown' due to rise in COVID-19 cases

Ontario is expected to announce new public health restrictions to address surging COVID-19 case rates. THE CANADIAN PR

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He said the province is pulling the emergency brake to put all 34 health unit regions in the province into shutdown, which is stricter than the grey-lockdown zone measures.

"The new variants are far more unsafe than before".

Ford said shutting down for the next four weeks is "our best chance to save lives" and to ensure a "good summer" with things reopening.

"This is a new pandemic".

"We're now fighting a new enemy".

Prohibiting the use of facilities for indoor or outdoor sports and recreational fitness, including gyms.

Under the province's new shutdown rules, all indoor organized events and social gatherings are prohibited.

Pharmacies and stores that sell food will be limited to 50 per cent capacity; all other retail stores will be limited to 25 per cent capacity.

The lockdown will restrict indoor gatherings to only members of the same household, and outdoor gatherings to five people.

Weddings, religious services, and funerals are limited to 15 per cent occupancy per room, with two metres of social distancing required.

Schools will remain open for in-person learning, although some Ontario students have been learning virtually since September.

She said customers have resumed that habit since the order lifted in Peel Region less than a month ago - sometimes without masks on - and she hopes this shutdown will send the message that it's time to stop.

"We're not going to be producing a stay-at-home order, because we saw the last time that it had tremendous ill effect on both children and adults", Health Minister Christine Elliott said on Thursday.

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Highest temperatures of 10 to 13 degrees, again coolest along the north and east coast due to a light north to northeast breeze. However, it will not last the forecast through Easter with change to colder conditions starting on Sunday.

The postponed March Break, now scheduled for the week of April 12, is expected to go ahead as planned.

She said the latest shutdown stands to further erode her struggling industry, saying stylists and other beauty workers can't hold on much longer. Someone who catches the dominant B.117 variant is 1.5 times more likely to die.

Ford said the measures are being taken as a result of the surge in COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations across Ontario.

The province could see up to 6,000 cases by the end of April if there is no stay-at-home order.

New variants of the virus risk overwhelming ICUs and threaten the care of all patients, warned Dr. Steini Brown, co-chair of the province's science advisory table.

"We need to close the gap between where we are today and where we will be with the millions of vaccines we're expecting by June", Ford said.

Through the Ontario Open Data Catalogue, Ontarians can now track the total number of patients who are in the ICU due to COVID-19, patients who are in the ICU and are testing positive, and patients who are in the ICU because of COVID-19 complications but are testing negative.

"Whole families are now showing up in intensive care".

"More and more it feels as if our business and other industries like ours are being used as more of a signal to the public rather than actually trying to impact health measures".

Brown said vaccines aren't reaching communities at highest risk, limiting the effectiveness of the province's strategy.

All 34 public-health regions went into the grey zone on December 26, followed by a provincewide stay-at-home order on January 14 that suspended the colour-coded system.

Leading up to Ford's announcement, Brown and Williams had advocated for a stay-at-home order lasting at least two weeks, preferably four.

The opposition NDP accused Ford of walking Ontario into the shutdown "with eyes wide open".

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