Ontario Premier Doug Ford watches a health-care worker prepare a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a University Health Network vaccine clinic in Toronto on January 7.
On Thursday, Premier Doug Ford announced that a provincewide emergency brake shutdown will come into effect on Saturday for at least four weeks, in an effort to curb rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations driven by highly transmissible variants of concerns. "We're not contributing to any of this spread, or these variants", she said. "This is a new pandemic; we're fighting a new enemy".
Health unit regions transitioned back to the COVID-19 Response Framework, with five colour-coded levels of varying restrictions.
No dining indoors or outdoors at restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments. Outdoor dining, including on patios, is also banned across the province.
Capacity limits of 50 per cent for stores that primarily sell food (including farmers markets) and pharmacies.
Indoor organized public events and social gatherings are not permitted, and outdoor gatherings are limited to no more than five people.
Capacity at weddings, funerals and religious services, rites or ceremonies is limited to 15 per cent capacity per room indoors.
The Spring break will also go ahead as planned the week of April 12 and Child Care will also remain open during shutdown.
"We saw that last time that it had tremendous ill-effect on both children and adults".
For more than a week in Ontario, the daily case numbers have been more than 2,000. The new variants are far more risky than before. Someone who catches the dominant B.117 variant is 1.5 times more likely to die. "We have never had more Ontarians in intensive care than we do today".
"We are now seeing almost 14 per cent increase in hospitalizations, with COVID-19 patients in ICU increasing dramatically", Ford said.
"Whole families are now showing up in intensive care".
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams was pressed to explain how shuttering patios in high risk zones will make a difference in skyrocketing cases.
Compounding that, Brown said COVID-19 vaccinations are not reaching the highest risk communities.
It was during the update where Waterloo Region's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hisu-Li Wang recognized the stricter measures will be hard and present hardships for many in the community but mentioned the province-wide shutdown will help control the impact and extent of the third wave. The HKPR District Health Unit is emphasizing the importance of continuing with the preventive measures known to reduce spread in order to keep our community safe until widespread vaccination has the opportunity to take hold.
The opposition NDP accused Ford of walking Ontario into the shutdown "with eyes wide open".
Opposition leader Andrea Horwath was quick to criticize the new measures.
"He marched us right into grave danger".
In Saskatchewan, however, Premier Scott Moe stopped short of changing any rules, instead asking people to follow public health advice.
Quebec, too, found itself tightening restrictions in some regions - a measure announced Wednesday evening.
This story was updated at 4:31 p.m.to include comment from the Ontario NDP.