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Ontario sees record new cases; Tam says Canada nearing same peak as 2nd wave

The latest:

Ontario has reported its highest daily count of new COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, with 4,456 more infections confirmed on Sunday.

The province also registered 21 more deaths attributed to the respiratory illness. On Saturday, health officials confirmed 3,813 new cases and 19 additional deaths.

The province now has 1,513 patients in hospital for treatment of COVID-19, with 605 in intensive care.

The latest figure comes just days after the province ordered hospitals to halt non-emergency surgeries. A memo was sent to hospitals Thursday night telling them to postpone their non-emergency surgeries, effective Monday, everywhere but in northern Ontario. Pediatric specialty hospitals are excluded from the order. 

WATCH | COVID-19 patient says time in ICU was a ‘scary experience’:

Matthew Cardinal talks about his time in the intensive care unit, after he was put into a medically induced coma and on a ventilator after catching the B117 coronavirus variant. The 34-year-old shares his experience, which he described as ‘traumatic.’ 8:10

Meanwhile, Canada’s chief public health officer says the country is nearing case totals seen at the peak of the second wave.

Dr. Theresa Tam said in a statement on Sunday that intensive care admissions across the country increased by 23 per cent over the last seven days compared to the week before, which is putting strain on the health system. She also said that COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations are increasingly impacting younger people and says there’s been a jump in the number of hospitalizations among those 40 to 59 years old.

On the vaccine front, Pfizer confirmed to CBC News on Sunday that it it intends to seek approval from Health Canada “within the next few weeks” for children aged 12 to 15 to use its vaccine.

The drugmaker and it development partner, BioNTech, have already asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to expand emergency use for that same age group in the United States.

The companies say preliminary results through March 31 from late-stage testing in that age group found the vaccine safe and 100 per cent effective in blocking infections.


What’s happening across Canada

As of 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, Canada had reported 1,060,163 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 73,446 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 23,315.

In British Columbia, a worker who was fired for refusing to wear a mask has had his complaint dismissed by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. The worker alleged he was discriminated against based on his religion. But the tribunal disagreed.

In Whistler, adults living and working in the ski resort community will be able to receive vaccine shots starting tomorrow. Vancouver Coastal Health says the move comes in response to increasing transmission recorded there.


Alberta logged 1,183 new COVID-19 cases and an additional death on Sunday.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people rallied outside the GraceLife Church just west of Edmonton on the first Sunday after it was shut down and fenced off by health officials for refusing to follow COVID-19 rules related to capacity, physical distancing and masking.

Dozens of police officers monitored the large crowd as they sang hymns and prayed for the church to reopen.

There was a tense moment around noon when a group splintered from the crowd and tore down part of the fence. RCMP and others from the crowd pushed back the group and re-established the fence.

PHOTOS | Hundreds rally outside Alberta church closed over COVID-19 violations:

In Saskatchewan, residents who are 51 can be vaccinated at a drive-thru clinic in Regina starting Sunday. The previous age range for eligibility was 52 to 54.

Manitoba registered 112 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday and no new deaths.

Quebec confirmed 1,535 new cases of COVID-19 and five more deaths.

In Montreal and Laval, the 9:30 p.m. curfew in those cities was pushed up to 8 p.m. on Sunday night.


People wait in line at a walk-in clinic to receive a dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine in Montreal on Sunday. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

In New Brunswick, lockdowns came into effect in the Edmundston and Haut-Madawaska areas on Sunday, forcing all non-essential businesses to close and schools to move to virtual learning.

Additionally, residents must continue to maintain a single-household bubble and non-essential travel in and out of the area is not permitted.

The measures come as hospitals in those areas are reaching capacity due to an influx of COVID-19 patients, driven by coronavirus variants.

WATCH | 3rd wave renews pressure on Canada’s hospitals:

The fast-spreading third wave of COVID-19 is making younger people sicker and it’s renewing the pressure on hospitals across the country. 1:49

In Prince Edward Island, 12 pharmacies will start administering AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine shots to residents over 55 on Monday.

Nova Scotia reported five new cases on Sunday while Newfoundland and Labrador recorded one.

In Yukon, visitors to the territory can now apply to self-isolate in the wilderness instead of in hotels. The Wilderness Tourism Association of Yukon came up with the idea after seeing the government approve alternative self-isolation plans for the mining industry and for outdoor outfitters last year. It was approved by Yukon health officials last month. 


What’s happening around the world

As of Sunday, more than 135.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll had increased to more than 2.9 million.

In the Middle East, Iran on Sunday reported 258 new deaths — its highest single-day death toll from COVID-19 this year — bringing the country’s total deaths in the pandemic to nearly 64,500, state TV reported.


People wearing face masks walk past closed shops in Tehran on Sunday following the tightening of restrictions to curb the surge of COVID-19 cases. (Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images)

In Europe, France said Sunday that residents over age 55 will be granted access to COVID-19 vaccinations starting Monday, which is earlier than had been anticipated.

In the Americas, Mexico will expand vaccinations to adults over 50 at the end of April, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said.

In Africa, Cameroon received 200,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine, the first vaccines to arrive in the country, which will enable it inoculate frontline workers as it battles rising cases of coronavirus, the health ministry said.

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CBC | Health News

Ontario issues emergency orders to allow hospitals to transfer patients without consent

The Ontario government’s health agency has issued two emergency orders to help hospitals cope with a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations and intensive care admissions that is threatening the province’s critical care capacity, the Ministry of Health said in a news release Friday. 

One order allows hospitals to transfer patients without their consent if those facilities are in danger of being overwhelmed. This is the first time such an order has been made during the pandemic

The other allows the redeployment of health-care professionals and other staff who work for the province’s community care agencies to work in hospitals.

“With Ontario’s hospitals facing unprecedented critical care capacity pressures during the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, our government is taking immediate action to ensure no capacity nor resource in Ontario’s hospitals goes untapped,” Minister of Health Christine Elliott said in the release.

In an exclusive interview with CBC News on Friday evening, Elliott said the province is concerned about the increasing number of COVID-19 cases driven by the variants of concern, which are deadlier and result in more hospitalizations and ICU admissions. 

The province reached a record number of 552 people with COVID-19 in ICUs on Friday. 

Boosting capacity

Effective immediately, health-care professionals and other staff with Ontario Health and Home and Community Care Support Services organizations will be provided the authority to voluntarily deploy staff, such as care co-ordinators, nurses, and others, to work in hospitals that are experiencing significant capacity pressures due to COVID-19.

Elliott said these staff members would work primarily as ward nurses to allow nurses currently in those hospitals who have intensive care experience to move to those units. 

She didn’t have an exact number of workers who could be redeployed, saying: “We’re not looking at huge numbers of people but any assistance that we can get will be most welcome.” 

The organizations will also be authorized to deploy staff to backfill redeployed staff within and to another Home and Community Care Support Service organization.

During surges when the demand for critical care threatens to overwhelm a hospital, hospitals will be allowed to transfer patients without obtaining their consent or, when the patient is incapable, their substitute decision maker’s consent. 

The attending physician must be satisfied the patient will receive the care they require at the other site, and that the transfer won’t compromise the patient’s condition. 

After the surge, the other hospital would be required to make reasonable efforts to transfer the patient back to the original site, or to another suitable location, with the proper consent, as soon as possible, the government says. 

Elliott says the non-consenting transfers will only be done in extreme circumstances, adding that no hospital in the province has neared this capacity level yet. However, she noted that it’s a waiting game as numbers are expected to increase in the next short while. 

These orders are expected to increase ICU capacity in Ontario by up to 1,000 beds, the news release reads. The orders will remain valid for 14 days unless revoked or extended, the government said. 

Over the last year, the government has created over 3,100 more hospital beds. 

“Now we know that we need to take more steps and increase capacity again,” Eliott said. 

She added that these measures will help to ensure that hospitals continue having adequate staffing and resources to care for patients. 

Hospitals have also been told to ramp down all elective surgeries and non-urgent activities in order to preserve critical care and human resource capacity, effective Monday.

“We understand that deferring scheduled surgeries and other procedures will have an impact on patients, their families and on caregivers. We are monitoring the situation and will work to resume as soon and as safely as possible these deferred services and procedures,” said Matt Anderson, CEO of Ontario Health.

Elliott said this order will create between 700 to 1,000 more spaces in hospitals that will be used for COVID-19 patients.

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CBC | Health News

Ontario orders hospitals to halt non-emergency surgeries as COVID-19 patients fill ICUs

The Ontario government’s health agency is telling hospitals across most of the province to stop performing all but emergency and life-saving surgeries because of the growing caseload of COVID-19 patients, CBC News has learned.

A memo was sent to hospitals Thursday night telling them to postpone their non-emergency surgeries, effective Monday, everywhere but in northern Ontario. 

“Given increasing case counts and widespread community transmission across many parts of the province, we are facing mounting and extreme pressure on our critical care capacity,” says Ontario Health CEO Matthew Anderson in the memo, obtained by CBC News.

“We are instructing hospitals to ramp down all elective surgeries and non-emergent/urgent activities in order to preserve critical care and human resource capacity,” says Anderson. 

The provincial health agency is also warning hospitals that they may be asked to send staff to harder-hit areas. 


Dr. Chris Simpson is the executive vice-president of medical at Ontario Health and a cardiologist at Kingston Health Sciences Centre. (CBC)

“We may request available health-care workers/teams to support care in other parts of the system,” says Anderson. “We may be asking you to identify available staff who might be redeployed to sites requiring support.” 

The order comes with Ontario hospitals reporting a record number of patients critically ill with COVID-19 in the intensive care units. Premier Doug Ford cited the pressure on ICUs in his decision Wednesday to declare a third state of emergency and put the province under a stay-at-home order.    

There were 532 patients with COVID-19 in the province’s ICUs on Wednesday night, according to a daily report from Critical Care Services Ontario. 

Ontario has roughly 2,000 ICU beds. Emergency patients who don’t have COVID-19 typically fill 1,200 to 1,400 of those beds.

Modelling from Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table projects 600 COVID-19 patients in ICUs by the middle of April, and 800 by the end of the month, should current case trends continue.  

“To look after the kinds of patients that we know are going to be coming over the next couple of weeks, we need to generate more capacity,” said Dr. Chris Simpson, Ontario Health’s  executive vice-president of medical, in an interview Thursday night. 

“To do that, we need to ramp down some of the surgeries and procedures and other care that can be deferred,” said Simpson, who works as a cardiologist at Kingston Health Sciences Centre. That hospital has already been the destination for numerous transfers of patients from the Greater Toronto Area in an effort to relieve the pressure on the busiest hospitals.  

Emergency surgeries for such things as strokes, heart attacks and trauma would not be postponed, nor would urgent cancer surgeries, said Simpson. However, operations such as hip and knee replacements would be deferred. 

Ontario has not ordered such an across-the-board postponement of non-emergency surgeries since the first wave of the pandemic hit the province in March 2020. 

Postponing elective surgeries frees capacity in ICUs because some patients need critical care after their operations, sometimes because of the intensity of the surgery or because of complications, said Simpson. 

“We need to ensure that every ounce of capacity that we have is used as best as we possibly can,” he said.

Ontario already has a backlog of more than 245,000 medical procedures deferred from earlier in the pandemic, according to the most recent provincial data. 

The Ford government allocated an extra $ 1.8 billion in last month’s provincial budget to help hospitals care for COVID-19 patients and clear the backlog.

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CBC | Health News

Ontario to impose stay-at-home order, closing non-essential retail: sources

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s cabinet has approved a provincewide stay-at-home order and will close non-essential retail stores for all but curbside pickup, multiple sources told CBC News Tuesday night. 

The move comes in the wake of criticism that restrictions announced last week — what the government called “emergency brake” measures — are insufficient to slow the spread of Ontario’s third wave of COVID-19. 

Sources familiar with cabinet’s decision said the stay-at-home order would take effect at 12:01 a.m. ET Thursday and last up to four weeks. CBC News is not naming the sources because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the announcement.

The sources said only grocery stores and pharmacies would be permitted to stay open for customers to shop indoors. They said big box retail stores would be restricted to selling only grocery and pharmacy items for in-person shopping.

Garden centres would also be permitted to stay open, according to the sources.


Ontario is vaccinating, on average, more than 70,000 people per day against COVID-19, but the province has also reported on average more than 2,800 new cases of the virus daily over the past week. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

There is no indication that a provincewide closure of schools is part of the government’s plan. In the stay-at-home order that was in place in Ontario in February, schools were explicitly excluded.   

Earlier Tuesday, Ford defended the measures he’d announced last week, yet hinted additional measures were coming.

“I think we made massive moves last week by basically shutting down the entire province,” Ford said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

“That was huge, shutting down thousands and thousands of businesses, that I hate doing, but we’re going to have further restrictions moving forward, very, very quickly.”

Pressure has grown in recent days on the Ford government to tighten measures. 

The medical officers of health from three of Ontario’s biggest public health units — Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa — urged the province on Monday to impose a stay-at-home order, travel restrictions between regions and an emergency mandate for paid sick days 

The top public health doctors in Toronto and Peel Region also ordered the closure of schools, sending nearly 600,000 students to online-only classes just days ahead of a rescheduled week-long spring break.   

Associations representing physicians and nurses issued statements saying more needed to be done to prevent further deaths and to ensure the health-care system is not overwhelmed.

Ontario has reported on average more than 2,800 new cases of COVID-19 daily over the past week. There are 510 people with COVID-19 being treated in ICUs, which is the highest at any point in the pandemic. The previous peak was 420 patients, in mid-January during the second wave.

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CBC | Health News

Quebec expands COVID-19 lockdown, and worry in Ontario over hospitals

The latest:

New COVID-19 restrictions will go into effect in Quebec Monday evening as the province tries to deal with rising COVID-19 case numbers involving more contagious variants.

The provincial government said the curfew will move from 9:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. ET Monday evening in the regional municipalities of Beauce-Sartigan, Bellechasse, Les Etchemins, Nouvelle-Beauce and Robert-Cliche.

Non-essential businesses will have to close starting Monday evening, as will restaurant dining rooms. Schools will also have to close for in-person learning. The measures will be in place until at least April 12, the province said.

The Quebec government imposed the same restrictions on three other cities last week, including Quebec City and Gatineau.

Quebec reported 1,252 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths on Monday. According to a provincial dashboard, hospitalizations stood at 503, with 123 in intensive care.

The expanded restrictions in parts of Quebec come as several provinces face mounting COVID-19 case numbers and increasing hospitalizations, prompting concern about strain on health-care systems.

Ontario on Monday reported figures covering two days, for a total of 5,979 new cases of COVID-19 and 22 additional deaths.

According to figures released Monday, hospitalizations in Ontario stood at 942, with 494 people in “ICU due to COVID-related critical illness.” Of those in ICU, 469 were still testing positive for COVID-19, the update said.

In Toronto, Mayor John Tory said the city is working on a plan to vaccinate high-risk people at their places of work.

-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 12:40 p.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada


People stand outside a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test centre at London Bridge Station, in London, Britain, April 5, 2021. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

As of 12:40 p.m. ET on Monday, Canada had reported 1,011,238 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 61,007 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 23,088.

In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Monday.

In New Brunswick, health officials reported 10 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday.  Fourteen patients are hospitalized with the disease, including eight in intensive care, the province said.

The update came a day after health officials said a hospital in northwestern New Brunswick is nearing its capacity for acute care patients, according to a statement released by the Vitalité Health Network over the weekend. 

“The evolution of the variant and its atypical behaviours are creating problems that exceed the pessimistic projections that had been made for that region,” the statement from the organization’s president and CEO Dr. France Desrosiers said. “The Edmundston Regional Hospital will soon reach its maximum capacity in terms of patients requiring acute care.”

Desrosiers, who praised the efforts of front-line workers and health-care staff, noted that the transfer of patients to other facilities “is imminent.”

Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador had not yet reported updated figures Monday.

Across the North, there were no new cases reported in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories or Yukon on Sunday.

WATCH | Nunavut premier celebrates turning a COVID-19 corner:

Arviat once hosted Nunavut’s worst COVID-19 outbreak. But with almost one-third of the territory’s population fully immunized and travel restrictions easing, Premier Joe Savikataaq visited his hometown to share his appreciation with those who helped turn the corner. 2:17

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba did not provide an update on COVID-19 on Sunday.

In Saskatchewan, health officials reported 221 new cases of COVID-19 and three additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 194, with 44 people in intensive care due to COVID-19, the highest figure recorded in the province.

In Alberta, a preliminary estimate of new case numbers reported Sunday stood at 950, the province’s top doctor said in a tweet. Dr. Deena Hinshaw said hospitalizations remained stable, noting that health officials would provide an update on Monday.

WATCH | COVID-19 ‘disaster’ on the doorstep,’ says Calgary ER physician:

Calgary is in the midst of explosive COVID-19 growth, which is driven by variants, says Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency room physician. He says leaders have been slow to respond to this ‘five-alarm fire.’ 5:55

British Columbia will provide updated case numbers later Monday. Businesses putting staff and patrons at risk by remaining open in defiance of COVID-19 rules will face consequences, the province’s public safety minister said Sunday as the province works to bring surging infections under control.

The warning from Mike Farnworth comes after a Vancouver restaurant that flouted restrictions by serving patrons indoors was slapped with a closure notice on Saturday, which its owner has indicated she intends to ignore.

“Harassment of enforcement officials will not be tolerated, and closure orders by Vancouver Coastal Health or any other health authority must be respected,” Farnworth said in a statement.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 11:45 a.m. ET


What’s happening around the world


Quebec reported 1,154 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday and nine additional deaths. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

As of early Monday afternoon, more than 131.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.8 million.

In the Americas, starting Monday, any adult in Florida is eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine. In addition, the state announced that teens ages 16 and 17 can also get the vaccine with parental permission.

Johnson & Johnson is taking over “full responsibility” for a subcontractor’s Baltimore facility that produces the drug substance for its single-dose COVID-19 vaccine after an embarrassing mix-up. The company said it’s adding leaders in operations and quality control to the Emergent BioSolutions plant to supervise the work of its vaccine line.

It comes after enough drug substance for about 15 million doses was contaminated by human error at the plant. The issue was flagged to federal regulators, who have yet to approve any doses from the Baltimore plant, last week.

J&J has delivered about 20 million doses from another plant to the federal government already and says it expects to deliver about 80 million more by the end of May.

LISTEN | ‘I call it … one endless Wednesday’: More than one year in, pandemic burnout is real, author says:

Front Burner21:48Pandemic burnout is real

Today on Front Burner, Anne Helen Petersen explains the forces behind burnout and why more and more Canadians are struggling with it one year into a global pandemic that has altered the way many of us work and live. 21:48

In the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippine government extended a lockdown by another week Monday after an alarming spike in coronavirus infections continued to surge and started to overwhelm many hospitals in the capital and outlying regions.

President Rodrigo Duterte placed Metropolitan Manila and four outlying provinces, a region of more than 25 million people, under lockdown last week as daily infections breached 10,000. Roman Catholic leaders shifted Holy Week and Easter events online after all public gatherings, including in places of worship, were temporarily banned.

Bangladesh began enforcing a weeklong nationwide lockdown Monday, shutting shopping malls and transportation as authorities try to stop a surge in coronavirus infections and deaths.

The decision came after health authorities said that they were facing overwhelming pressure in intensive care units in recent weeks because of severe infections. This is the second time the South Asian nation has enforced a virus lockdown after the first last March.

India has reported its biggest single-day spike in confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, and officials in the hard-hit state home to Mumbai are returning to the closure of some businesses and places of worship in a bid to slow the spread.


Medical workers fill a box with traditional Easter cakes known as Colomba as they prepare to tour the COVID-19 ward of the GVM Maria Pia Hospital in Turin on Sunday. (Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images)

The Health Ministry on Monday reported 103,558 new COVID-19 infections in the last 24 hours, topping the previous peak of 97,894 daily cases recorded in late September. Fatalities rose by 478, raising the country’s death toll to 165,101.

India now has a seven-day rolling average of more than 73,000 cases per day and infections in the country are being reported faster than anywhere else in the world.

In the Middle East, Iran’s capital is once again facing the highest level of restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus as the country struggles with a new surge in daily deaths. State media said the measure on Monday is the third time Tehran has faced a so-called code red since the pandemic began. A code red involves a ban on any travel by personal cars to and from cities and limits working hours of many businesses and offices to prevent the spread of the virus.

About 50 cities and towns are in code red, with only 23 in code blue, or “safe” status, out of the country’s total of more than 800 cities and towns. The rest are in orange and yellow status, which involve fewer restrictions.

The report comes as Iran’s daily death toll again reached three digits, after months of being under 100. On Sunday, 161 deaths were reported, bringing the registered death toll in Iran to more than 63,000, the highest in the Middle East. Iran has reported some 1.9 million confirmed cases of the virus

Also on Monday, Iran said it received the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from the Netherlands through the global COVAX initiative. 

In Africa, South Africa’s health minister said Sunday that the number of confirmed cases in the country — the hardest-hit on the continent — stood at more than 1.5 million, with nearly 53,000 recorded deaths.

In Europe, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday his government was hopeful that non-essential international travel would restart from May 17, but did not want to underestimate the growing number of COVID-19 cases elsewhere. He said a task force would report later this week to set out what might be a “reasonable” plan.


A health worker administers the Covishield vaccine for COVID-19 at a residential area in Ahmedabad, India, on Sunday. (Ajit Solanki/The Associated Press)

France’s health minister warned Monday that the number of COVID-19 patients in the country’s intensive care units could reach levels seen during the first crisis a year ago. France’s hospitals have already surpassed the number of coronavirus ICU patients seen during the second surge in November, and Olivier Veran said on TF1 television that “it’s possible we could approach” the ICU saturation levels of April 2020.

Portugal on Sunday extended until April 15 restrictions on travel via land and sea to Spain that had been due to end this weekend.

Bank of Italy Governor Ignazio Visco told the Financial Times newspaper that the biggest threat to a global economic recovery is the irregular pace at which countries are vaccinating their populations against COVID-19.

-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 12:40 p.m. ET


Have questions about this story? We’re answering as many as we can in the comments.


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CBC | Health News

Ford government hitting ’emergency brake’ to put all Ontario in lockdown: sources

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government will announce on Thursday that it’s putting the entire province under lockdown restrictions for 28 days, multiple sources tell CBC News.  

The move for all public health units will take effect on Saturday under what the government has called its “emergency brake” provisions. 

The restrictions would not be as tight as the provincewide lockdown that was imposed in December, according to the sources. 

Non-essential retail stores would be permitted to open but with occupancy capped at 25 per cent of maximum, while essential retail outlets such as grocery stores would be limited to 50 per cent occupancy, said one source. 

Indoor dining would be prohibited at restaurants, but the sources were unclear on whether patios would remain open as currently allowed in lockdown zones.  


The third wave of COVID-19 has grown steadily in Ontario since early March. The supply of vaccines hasn’t come quickly enough to rein in the spread of more contagious and deadlier variants of the virus among the general population. (Sam Nar/CBC)

Construction would remain open, as would religious services, although capacity limits will be in place, the sources said. 

Some outdoor activities such as golf would be permitted but indoor fitness facilities and personal care services such as hair salons would be closed.

Schools are to continue as normal next week, though the cabinet has not yet decided what will happen after spring break, which takes place the week of April 12, the sources said.  

The decision from Ford’s cabinet on Wednesday followed the news that Ontario’s hospitals have a record number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units. 

Critical Care Services Ontario reported 421 patients with the virus in ICUs across the province. The previous peak of 420 came in mid-January, during the height of the second wave of the pandemic.

At a news conference Wednesday, Ford said he was “extremely concerned” about both rising ICU admissions and daily case counts.

Asked by a reporter about the possibility of any further restrictions coming into effect to help curb current trends, Ford said “stay tuned” and added that an announcement is coming Thursday. 

Among the province’s 34 public health units, 22 are currently under what the government calls lockdown (grey) or control (red) restrictions.

Ontario has reported an average of about 2,300 new cases of COVID-19 per day over the past week.

On Dec. 21, when Ford announced plans for a post-Christmas province-wide lockdown, the average number of new daily cases was 2,276. 

A key difference between the situation in December and current third wave is that those Ontarians most vulnerable to dying of COVID-19 — residents of long-term care — have largely been vaccinated against the disease.

The latest provincial figures show just 10 active cases among residents of long-term care. More than 15,000 residents were infected over the course of the pandemic, and more than 3,750 of them died. 

The count of new COVID-19 cases in Ontario schools for last week was the highest weekly total since the pandemic began. For the week of March 22, schools reported 1,222 cases among staff and students. The previous record was 999, during the final week of school before the Christmas holiday. 

Education unions in some of the worst-hit regions are calling for classes to move online-only immediately after this long weekend.

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CBC | Health News

‘Don’t make plans for Easter’: Ford hints at restrictions as Ontario sees 2,336 new COVID-19 cases

Ontario confirmed 2,336 more cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, as a government agency that tracks hospitalizations reported the biggest single-day jump in admissions of patients to intensive care since the pandemic began.

It’s a situation that Premier Doug Ford addressed Tuesday, speaking in one of the Toronto neighbourhoods hardest-hit by COVID-19. 

“I’m extremely concerned about the situation that we’re seeing,” Ford said of the number of people in intensive care, particularly young people.  

“Don’t make plans for Easter,” he said, saying further lockdowns could happen depending on the guidance of Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams. 

Tuesday also marked the last day for retired Gen. Rick Hillier, chair of the vaccination rollout taskforce, who maintained that by the first day of summer, all eligible Ontarians will have had the opportunity to be vaccinated.

Ford was also asked about whether Ontario might adjust its vaccination plan based on the fact that younger people now make up the majority of the province’s COVID-19 cases. 

“Our goal is to make sure we take care of the most vulnerable,” he said of the province’s strategy to vaccinate in descending order of age groups, adding there are no plans now to change that strategy. 

Critical Care Services Ontario (CCSO) says 46 more people with the illness were taken to intensive care units since yesterday morning, bringing the current total to 410. Admissions of COVID-19 patients to ICUs peaked at 420 in mid-January, during the height of the second wave in the province.

CCSO compiles a daily internal report that hospitals and health organizations use for planning. The latest data show that COVID-19 patients require, on average, about two weeks of critical care, according to the agency. 

The Ontario Hospital Association cautioned this morning that the province “could face a surge of patient transfers and cancelled surgeries as we fight a third wave” of COVID-19.

(You may notice that the ICU figures reported by CCSO often differ from those the Ministry of Health posts on its public COVID-19 dashboard. That’s because the ministry removes a patient from its count once they have stopped testing positive for the virus, even if that patient remains in critical care with complications. As such, CCSO’s count is regarded as the more accurate accounting of the COVID-19 situation in hospitals.)

Meanwhile, an infectious disease expert on Ontario’s COVID-19 science table told CBC News the pandemic is “completely out of control”  and that total hospitalizations are already more than 20 per cent higher than at the start of the last provincewide lockdown.

Dr. Peter Juni, also a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Toronto, said the current pace of Ontario’s vaccination effort is not sufficient to curb the current growth in cases. The latest surge is largely fuelled by variants of concern, particularly B117, which was first identified in the United Kingdom.

So far, a total of 20,117 samples that tested positive for COVID-19 have also screened positive for a telltale genetic mutation that indicates the presence of a variant, including 1,210 added in today’s provincial report.

The science table projects that variants currently account for about 68 per cent of all new cases in Ontario. 

Premier Doug Ford is expected to provide an update on the immunization campaign this afternoon. The province has repeatedly expressed frustration at the pace of deliveries from the federal government.

On that front, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today that Pfizer-BioNTech has agreed to move up delivery of five million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to Canada from late summer to June.

The accelerated delivery means Canada now expects to receive 9.6 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that month, he said.

As of yesterday evening, Ontario had received 2,358,965 doses of vaccines and administered about 89 per cent of them.

The new cases reported today include 727 in Toronto, 434 in Peel Region, 229 in York Region, 194 in Durham Region, 144 in Ottawa and 123 in Hamilton.

They come as labs completed 36,071 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and logged a positivity rate of 6.2 per cent.

The seven-day average of daily cases climbed to 2,207, its highest point since January 26.

The Ministry of Education reported another 518 school-related cases confirmed between last Friday and yesterday afternoon, including 440 students, 77 staff members and one person who was not identified. A total of 58, or about 1.2 per cent of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly-funded schools, are closed due to the illness.

Public health units also recorded the deaths of 14 more people with COVID-19, bringing the official toll to 7,351.

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New data shows COVID-19 pandemic now ‘completely out of control’ in Ontario, key scientific adviser says

A new briefing note from a panel of science experts advising the Ontario government on COVID-19 shows a province at a tipping point.

Variants that are more deadly are circulating widely, new daily infections have reached the same number at the height of the second wave, and the number of people hospitalized is now more than 20 per cent higher than at the start of the last provincewide lockdown, states an analysis from Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table published on Monday night.

“Right now in Ontario, the pandemic is completely out of control,” Dr. Peter Juni, the table’s scientific director and a professor of medicine and epidemiology with the University of Toronto, said in an interview prior to the briefing note’s publication.

That stark assessment follows weeks of warnings from medical professionals in Ontario over rising case counts and fast-spreading variants. It comes the same day B.C. announced it will be implementing a three-week “circuit breaker”-style lockdown, with sweeping new restrictions on indoor dining in restaurants, group fitness and worship services.

Juni said for Ontario, there is now “no way out” of the dire scenario that’s set to unfold over the next few weeks without a widespread lockdown as well — coupled with other measures, including the province providing paid sick leave to essential workers, encouraging Ontarians to avoid movement between regions, and ensuring residents have access to lower-risk outdoor activities. 

“There is no such thing as winning this race with just vaccinations,” Juni stressed. “That’s impossible.”

WATCH | 60% higher risk of death from coronavirus variants, new Ont. data says:

Coronavirus variants double the risk of someone being admitted to intensive care — and increase the risk of death by roughly 60 per cent, according to a new analysis of recent Ontario data. 2:36

Variants now 67% of Ontario infections

The table’s latest analysis, first reported by CBC News on Friday, shows new variants of concern now account for 67 per cent of all SARS-CoV-2 infections in Ontario.

Compared with the early strain that circulated, the variants — which are primarily B117, the variant first identified in the U.K. — are proving to cause more severe illness.

The briefing note outlines that the variants are associated with a more than 60 per cent increased risk of hospitalization, a doubled risk of admission to intensive care, and a 56 per cent increased risk of death. 

By March 28, the daily number of new SARS-CoV-2 infections in Ontario also “reached the daily number of cases observed near the height of the second wave, at the start of the province-wide lockdown,” on Dec. 26, 2020, the note reads.

Toronto-based geriatrician Dr. Nathan Stall, a member of the science table, said Ontario is “repeating the same mistakes over and over and over again.”

“We continually fail to protect the most vulnerable,” he continued. “First it was long-term care, now it’s community-dwelling older adults [and] essential workers.”

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is now 21 per cent higher than at the start of the province-wide lockdown, while ICU occupancy is 28 per cent higher. The percentage of COVID-19 patients in ICUs who are younger than 60 is about 50 per cent higher.

“We’re seeing this shift of who’s in the hospital and who’s in the ICU right now … that’s worrying,” said University of Toronto epidemiologist and researcher Ashleigh Tuite, the lead author on the briefing note.

Emergency and critical care physicians have also highlighted that trend, noting anecdotally in recent weeks that patients appeared to be showing up to hospitals both younger and more seriously ill than during the first two waves of the pandemic in Ontario.

The good news, according to Stall, is that the once-raging fire in long-term care has been nearly extinguished. But he warned younger, unvaccinated adults remain at risk of falling ill.

“There are a lot of susceptible individuals,” he said.

Ontario boosting hospital capacity

Stall said the analysis should be sobering, for both decision-makers in the Ontario government and the public — though he acknowledged the mixture of pandemic fatigue and vaccine euphoria facing many residents may make it hard to comprehend what’s in store in the weeks ahead.

So will Ontario follow B.C.’s lead and implement a large-scale lockdown? Or a stay-at-home order like the province was under after cases kept spiking following the heightened restrictions put in place last December?

Alexandra Hilkene, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, said health officials will continue to “review the data and trends” but did not share any plans for future restrictions.

She also noted the province’s hospital investments, including up to $ 125 million to expand critical care capacity. Work is happening to add over 500 critical care and high intensity medicine beds to hospitals in areas with high rates of transmission, she said, plus two potential field hospitals, one that could be available in early April at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, with early site work happening in Hamilton as well.

“Ontario Health and the Ontario Critical Care COVID Command Table continue to work with our hospitals to transfer patients from hospitals who are at capacity to others sites to ensure no capacity goes untapped,” she continued.

Experts who are ringing alarms warn boosting capacity and shuffling patients around won’t stop people from falling ill in the first place.

“We should not hope for miracles,” Juni said. “They’re not coming … vaccines will work much better when we start to control the growth we have now, otherwise the force of infection will be too high.”

‘Significant delays’ until impact is clear

According to the briefing note, “there will be significant delays until the full burden to the health-care system becomes apparent,” because the increased risk of COVID-19 hospitalization, ICU admission and death after infection is most pronounced 14 to 28 days after diagnosis.

Other non-COVID-19 procedures and appointments could be delayed, Stall noted, adding to a sky-high backlog that’s been prompting concerns over delayed treatments and missed diagnoses for the last year. 

Now, much of what’s to come is already set-in-stone, Juni warned. But he stressed a light at the end of the tunnel does remain — and there’s still a chance to prevent future deaths through a combination of policy and individual action.

For the government, he said, that should mean a complete lockdown of all indoor spaces, given the higher transmission risk. For Ontarians, he stressed the need for strict adherence to public health precautions while relying on the warming weather to spend time outside, where the risks of getting infected are lower.

“It’s important now that everybody just wakes up and comes out of denial,” Juni said.

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60% higher risk of death from coronavirus variants, Ontario analysis finds: sources

Variants of the virus behind COVID-19 double the risk of someone being admitted to intensive care — and increase the risk of death by roughly 60 per cent — according to a new analysis of recent Ontario data from the province’s science advisory table, multiple sources tell CBC News.

A briefing note prepared by table members for the province, which is expected to be made public early next week, is based on an analysis of Ontario hospitalization and death data between December and March.

The analysis is expected to show that variants substantially increase the risk of serious illness when compared to the initial strain of SARS-CoV-2, including:

  • 60 per cent increased risk of hospitalization.
  • 100 per cent increased risk of being admitted to an ICU.
  • 60 per cent increased risk of death.

The data didn’t differentiate between variants, though most instances in Ontario right now are thought to be the B117 variant first identified in southeast England.

The Ontario figures were also pooled with data from Denmark and the U.K., two countries hit hard by B117, several sources explained, with local data falling in line with those earlier international findings. 

“Clearly, these variants are … more transmissible — so you’re more likely to become infected if you’re exposed to the virus — and also, you’re more likely to be admitted to hospital and to potentially die from the infection,” said critical care physician Dr. Kali Barrett, a member of the COVID-19 Modelling Collaborative, a separate group that was not involved in the science table’s upcoming briefing note.

Those health impacts are regardless of your age or pre-existing medical issues, she said of the international research.

People need to ‘protect themselves’

CBC News has not obtained a copy of the upcoming briefing note but did speak to multiple sources familiar with the expected contents. They asked not to be named because they’re not authorized to speak about the findings publicly.

Several sources said the analysis accounts for the fact that the age distribution of cases has shifted over time, and now skews younger, thanks in part to ongoing vaccinations of older populations.

It not only aligns with the growing body of international research suggesting variants such as B117 can have dire health impacts, but also the growing concern among Ontario clinicians that patients with COVID-19 are presenting both younger and more seriously ill.

“This is not just a disease that sort of strikes the older among us, it really strikes those in the prime of our lives,” Barrett said. “And we all have to be careful until everyone’s vaccinated.”

The overall risk of death from COVID-19 does remain fairly small, though it’s hard to pin down a precise figure given the evolving nature of the pandemic. 


Ontario residents attend a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in March. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Canada’s case fatality rate is currently thought to be roughly 2.4 per cent, but it’s a number based on confirmed cases and deaths among all age groups, which doesn’t reflect people who never got tested for the virus, and has proven to be a moving target depending on who’s falling ill and who’s getting vaccinated.

With variants now making up more than half of all recent COVID-19 cases in Ontario, experts stress it’s a risky numbers game: more people getting infected with a more dangerous variant could cause more serious illnesses and deaths, even among a younger, healthier cohort.

“Unless we have more stringent public health measures enacted,” Barrett said, “individuals really need to be doing everything they can at an individual level to protect themselves.”

Evidence points to higher risk

Health experts around the world have been ringing alarms for weeks about the potential for variants to take hold and wreak havoc.

As early as January, preliminary findings from the British government’s chief scientific adviser suggested B117 carries a higher risk of death than the original SARS-CoV-2 strain.

Two Ontario COVID-19 science advisory table members who spoke on the record to CBC News — though not about the expected briefing note — said the growing body of research that has since emerged suggests those early concerns were valid.

“It’s confounded by a bunch of different factors, including different ages, and different social situations, and how people have acquired the disease,” said Dr. Andrew Morris, an infectious disease specialist with Toronto’s Sinai Health System.

“But I think the majority — or the overwhelming majority — of evidence that we have right now is that it is substantially more, not only contagious, but severe in the disease that it causes.”

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Gerald Evans, a professor at Queen’s University’s faculty of medicine in Kingston, Ont., said without restrictions in place over the past few months, Ontario may have fared far worse in terms of serious cases and deaths. 

Restrictions loosening in various regions

Now, as Ontario is relaxing rules around indoor shopping, dining and other forms of gatherings in various areas, Evans and Morris both said some regions — and younger populations — largely spared in the first two waves of the pandemic could be harder hit the third time around.

“It’s hard for people to continue to just be holed up in their homes,” said Morris. “Perhaps the right thing to do is to just encourage people to spend as much of their time outdoors as possible.”

Indeed, in the Toronto area, for example, public health officials recently got their wish for a loosening of lockdown restrictions that now allow for outdoor dining

WATCH | Ontario allowing outdoor dining in grey zones:

Ontario will allow outdoor dining in grey-lockdown zones after modifying some of its COVID-19 restrictions. Restaurants in the red and orange zones of the province’s colour-coded guidelines will have their indoor dining capacity increased to 50 per cent — up to a maximum of 50 or 100 people, respectively. 2:56

But Morris cautioned that reopenings and reduced restrictions don’t necessarily mean there’s any reduced risk, though that might be the public perception. 

“In no way, shape or form should people be minimizing this pandemic. It still has legs, unfortunately,” Morris said.

“And where you may have had some estimate of risk to yourself six months ago, even three months ago — that estimated risk has now increased a bit.”

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Ontario records 1,699 new COVID-19 cases as vaccine bookings start for those 75 and older

Ontario reported 1,699 new cases of COVID-19 Monday, as the province’s vaccination rollout expands.

Health Minster Christine Elliott said there were 500 new cases found in Toronto, as well as 318 in Peel, 155 in York Region and 114 in Hamilton. The seven-day average, which smooths out peaks and valleys in the data, now stands at 1,600.

Those cases come with around 31,100 tests completed, which is well below the province’s capacity. Testing numbers usually dip over the weekend, before rising later in the week.

The province is reporting three new deaths of people with COVID-19, as well as 1,175 cases that have been marked as resolved. The death toll for the pandemic now stands at 7,244.

There are 813 people in hospital, up from 765 the day before — and that’s with the caveat of that figure being typically underreported on weekends.

There are also 298 people in intensive care, and 186 of those are on a ventilator, the province says. That’s down slightly from 302 and 189 the day before, respectively.

As of 8 p.m. Sunday, the province had administered just over 1.5 million vaccine doses, Elliott said. There were 31,335 vaccines administered Sunday, with 299,297 now fully vaccinated.

At a news conference Monday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford said the province is making “tremendous progress” on its vaccine plans, and lauded the work of front-line health-care workers.

“We’re so grateful to them for the vital role they’ve been playing in the fight against this virus,” he said. 

The premier once again pushed the federal government to provide more vaccine doses, saying Ontario needs a steadier supply.

“We’re at a fraction of our capacity. We need more vaccines,” he said.

Ontario’s test positivity rate now 5.4%, top doctors say

Dr. David Williams, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said on Monday that the number of new cases daily, the test positivity rate and the percentage of new cases that are variants of concern are all on the increase in Ontario.

“We’re in the third wave. The numbers are slowly going up. They’re not going as fast as predicted by the modellers, and that’s to your credit. But … it’s still going up,” Williams told reporters at a provincial update.

“We’re not doubling, but we’re going up continually with our variants of concern and we’re now starting to see impacts on our hospital rates. That dip down to where we had hoped to get to, we didn’t get to, and now it’s picking back up again.”

Since its last update on Thursday, Ontario is reporting 7,064 more cases of COVID-19, according to Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the province’s associate medical officer of health. 

Ontario’s seven-day average for daily cases, which now stands at 1,600, is an increase from 1,350 last week and 1,155 two weeks ago, Yaffe said. The province is also reporting an additional 42 deaths since Thursday. 

A total of 31,089 tests have been completed as of Monday and the test positivity rate is 5.4 per cent, marking the first time since Feb. 1 that the test positivity rate is above five per cent, she said.

The average test positivity rate over the last seven days is 3.9 per cent, an increase from three per cent from the same time period last week.


Dr. Barbara Yaffe and Dr. David Williams speak during a provincial update. ‘We’re in the third wave. The numbers are slowly going up,’ Williams said on Monday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario reporting 1,424 cases of variants of concern

Ontario is reporting a total of 1,424 confirmed cases of variants of concern on Monday.

Of this number, 1,340 are of the B117 variant first identified in the United Kingdom, 48 are of the B1351 variant, first identified in South Africa, and 36 of the P1 variant, first identified in Brazil.

A mutation has been detected in a total of 13,226 samples, but the lineage has not yet been determined, Yaffe said. 

The seven-day rolling average positivity rate for variants of concern is 46.4 per cent, an increase from 37.9 per cent a week ago, she added.

Other public health units that saw double-digit case increases of COVID-19 were:

  • Ottawa: 85
  • Durham: 79
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 64
  • Halton: 57
  • Lambton: 42
  • Eastern Ontario Health Unit: 39
  • Sudbury: 34
  • Waterloo: 31
  • Niagara: 24
  • Thunder Bay: 16
  • Windsor-Essex: 16
  • Brant County: 15
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 14
  • Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health: 13
  • Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District Health Unit: 12
  • Southwestern Public Health: 11
  • Middlesex-London: 11
  • Chatham-Kent: 10

(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit on a given day, because local units report figures at different times.)

Meanwhile, Ontario residents who are 75 or older can start booking their COVID-19 vaccines through the government’s online system starting today.

People in that age group were initially set to become eligible by the first week of April, but the province announced last week it was moving up the date, saying vaccinations are ahead of schedule.

Similarly, York Region has announced that it is now offering vaccine appointments for residents 70 and over, who were born in 1951 and earlier, effective March 23.

Also starting today, certain pharmacies and family physicians in some regions will be allowed to administer the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot to anyone 60 or older.

Ford said Monday that the province plans to expand that pilot project, with a focus on Peel Region and Toronto.

“We’re going to double the amount of pharmacies up to 750,” Ford said.

A number of regions are also moving to different restriction levels in the province’s colour-coded pandemic framework Monday.

The Brant, Chatham-Kent and Leeds, Grenville and Lanark regions are now in the red zone — the second-most restrictive.

Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph is now in orange, and four others — Timiskaming, Porcupine, North Bay Parry Sound and Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington — are in yellow.

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