As Ontario prepares for what Premier Doug Ford called a "tsunami" of new COVID-19 cases, the government has announced students will return to online learning and there are more provincewide restrictions coming.
Ford announced the province will return to "modified Step 2" restrictions, which include reducing social gathering limits, closing indoor dining, and reducing capacity in retail settings.
All publicly funded and private schools will move to remote learning starting January 5 until at least January 17.
“As cases continue to rise at a rapid rate and evidence on the Omicron variant evolves, additional time-limited measures are needed to help limit transmission as Team Ontario continues to get booster doses into arms,” said Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott. “While this was not an easy decision, these measures will help preserve hospital bed capacity and prevent our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.”
The province is preparing for hundreds of thousands of new cases each day and it's estimated about one per cent of those could end up being admitted to hospital.
In addition to the expected hospital admissions, hospitals are also experiencing reduced staffing levels because of the number of people needing to isolate.
The province has directed all hospitals and regulated health professionals to pause all non-emergent and non-urgent surgeries and procedures in order to preserve critical care and human resource capacity.
"In the coming weeks we can expect, across all sectors, 20-30 per cent absenteeism as a result of Omicron spreading so rapidly," said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore. "Our health system has to start building continuity of operations plans, they have to anticipate that we won't have as many staff as necessary, and we also have to prepare increased bed capacity."
With the cases continuing to surge across the province, schools are also expected to experience staffing shortages.
"The level of absenteeism we're seeing in other sectors tells us with absolute certainty that operating schools ensuring teachers are on the job and not home sick will be a challenge we cannot overcome in the short term," said Ford. "I want to provide parents and students with certainty, not the turmoil of school closures because not enough staff are available to teach our kids."
No additional health or safety measures were announced for schools moving forward. Last Thursday, Dr. Moore announced teachers would be provided with N95 masks, students would be provided 3-ply cloth masks, and more HEPA filters would be delivered to schools.
The new restrictions come into effect on Wednesday, January 5, 2021, at 12:01 a.m. and will be in place until at least January 26, 2022. Restrictions include:
- Indoor weddings, funerals and religious services will be limited to 50 per cent capacity, -All retail settings, personal care services, and public libraries will also be limited to 50 per cent capacity. Saunas, steam rooms and oxygen bars will be closed. -All restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments will be required to close for indoor dining. -All indoor sport and recreational fitness facilities including gyms will also be closed.
A full list of modified Step 2 restrictions can be found here.