Provinces are putting new measures in place to deal with an Omicron-fuelled rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, including delaying in-person schooling in Ontario by two weeks and bringing in the military to help Quebec speed up its third-dose vaccination program.
Ontario joined a number of jurisdictions that already announced a postponed return to in-person learning, declaring the delay Monday along with a slew of new restrictions that puts the province back into a “modified Step 2” of pandemic recovery.
Premier Doug Ford said in a news conference that virtual learning will replace in-person classes until Jan. 17. The news backtracked on an announcement made last week that in-person classes would resume this Wednesday.
Ontario said 1,232 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday, including 248 patients in intensive care units, which ups the seven-day average to 210.
The province also reported 13,578 new COVID-19 cases, though experts have said the restricted eligibility for PCR testing Ontario announced last week means that number is likely much higher.
Newfoundland and Labrador also announced new restrictions Monday, placing the province in “Alert Level 4,” as chief medical officer of health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald urged residents to keep non-essential contacts low.
Gyms and restaurants will operate under stricter capacity restrictions — 25 per cent or 50 people for fitness centres and 50 per cent for dining establishments with a maximum of six patrons per table. Organized team sports are cancelled under Newfoundland’s new plan, which Fitzgerald said would be re-assessed in two weeks.
Meanwhile, Canada’s public safety minister Bill Blair said on Twitter Monday that members of the Canadian Armed Forces will be deployed to Quebec to speed up the province’s vaccination efforts. Quebec’s booster program is set to expand Tuesday to those 18 and older.
In-person classes are already delayed until Jan. 17 Quebec, where a curfew came into effect on New Year’s Eve to help ease record-high cases.
The province reported 15,293 on Monday. It also logged 1,396 hospitalizations, including 181 patients in intensive care, and 15 additional deaths.
Alberta, Nova Scotia and British Columbia all previously announced delays for the return of in-person learning, with a targeted Jan. 10 start date. Manitoba, which expected students to return on Jan. 6 following the holiday break, later extended that to the 10th.
But calls to delay that further have already begun.
The Manitoba Teachers’ Society issued a statement Dec. 31 urging the province to move schools to “Code Red” status for the month of January, putting remote learning back into effect amid Omicron’s rapid spread.
Newfoundland extended the holiday break for schools on Dec. 29, saying a virtual return to class would be evaluated on a weekly basis.
Ontario’s lengthy list of what Ford called “targetted and time-limited” restrictions include reducing social gathering limits to five people indoors and 10 outdoors, closing indoor dining at restaurants and bars and shuttering indoor concert venues, theatres, cinemas and gyms.
Meanwhile, new, shortened isolation measures began Monday in Alberta, where people with at least two doses of vaccine who test positive for COVID-19 only need to isolate for five days instead of 10.
The five-day isolation period is similar to recommendations recently announced in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and British Columbia. Symptoms must be fully resolved by the end of the five-day period, otherwise people must continue to isolate.
—Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press