Ontario will move back to a modified step two of the Roadmap to Reopening as of January 5 in an effort to avoid strain on the healthcare system.
The Ford government says the measures will be temporary, being put in place for the next three weeks before they are re-assessed.
In today’s press conference, Ford said a “tsunami” of Omicron cases could cause shortages of hospital beds in the coming weeks.
He says although the evidence tells us only about 1% of people with Omicron will wind up in the hospital, the transmissibility of this strain will make even that unmanageable for hospitals.
“Our public health experts tell us we could see hundreds of thousands of cases every single day,” Ford said.
“1% of hundreds of thousands is too many new patients for our hospitals to handle.”
Additionally, due to the contagiousness of the Omicron stage, the Ontario government is preparing for 20-30% staff absenteeism across all sectors, including healthcare and other frontline workers.
A number of different guidelines will take effect as of Wednesday including reducing indoor gathering limits from ten to five, cutting personal care businesses and retail settings to 50% capacity, closing gyms and in-person dining, pausing all non-urgent procedures at hospitals, and keeping schools in an online learning capacity until at least January 17.
Ford added in the press conference that in person learning for special education students will continue, and that free emergency child care services will be available to parents during this period of remote learning, though details surrounding that are still minimal.
Additionally, the Premier says the provincial government is working on fast-tracking expanded supports for small businesses that have “already shouldered so much of this pandemic”.
The Ontario government says eligible businesses will receive rebate payments for a portion of the property tax and energy costs they incur while restricted by these measures.
Businesses required to close for indoor activities are expected to see 100% of their costs covered by the province, and targeted grants for workers and businesses impacted are being considered.
Recently, Kingston adopted some similar enhanced measures as part of a December 13 Section 22 Order, including putting a pause on live music performances and reducing indoor gathering limits.
The province’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kieran Moore says although hospitalization has become the primary metric of interest, it’s important to note that Omicron is providing a challenge to the entire health care system.
“This is about home care, this is about long term care, it’s about primary care,” Dr. Moore said.
“All of the system has to be on its feet working together to make sure that we are supporting our citizens in the places where they need the care the most.”
Moore says we are challenged in health human resources in all sectors, and that public health measures are put in place to support all of those sectors and not just hospitals.
“Anything that we can do together to keep pushing back that wave buys us more time and helps our hospitals, but helps all of our healthcare system in our response to COVID.”
There are currently at least 1,232 hospitalized with COVID in Ontario (pending potential missing data from the weekend), while Kingston currently has 13 hospitalized cases.