By Kaitlyn Clark
The Haldimand Press
HALDIMAND—All of Ontario will enter a lockdown on Boxing Day in an attempt to reduce rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, said Premier Doug Ford earlier this week.
“COVID-19 numbers continue to accelerate at a rapid rate,” explained Ford on the reasoning behind the lockdown. “Our hospitals are filling up more each day. We’ve seen a 70% increase in hospitalizations and 80% increase in ICU admissions in the past few weeks.”
He added that the province-wide shut down is required to lessen people travelling from region to region within the province, and to stop people from locked-down Quebec from flooding into regions along its border.
Ford warned that the increased strain on hospitals could further impact other health services, including the cancellation of more non-emergency surgeries in a system that is already trying to work through “thousands and thousands (of surgeries) in a backlog” from previous restrictions.
“This is a difficult action that is without a doubt necessary to save lives and avoid our hospitals being overwhelmed,” said Ford. “Make no mistake, thousands of lives are at risk now and if we fail to take action it could be catastrophic.”
Local Medical Officer of Health Dr. Shanker Nesathurai has previously raised concerns for hospital capacity locally, as there are limited resources in both Haldimand and Norfolk. Shortly after Ford’s announcement, the Haldimand Norfolk Health Unit announced three outbreaks at local seniors homes, with one staff member testing positive at each Caressant Care, Norview Lodge, and Beacon Home.
Ford came under questioning for the delay in beginning the lockdown, as the Province’s own models suggest the sooner the lockdown begins the more cases could be averted. However, Ford responded that the advanced notice is to allow businesses to prepare alternative operation methods for the lockdown. While the lockdown does not begin until Boxing Day, Ford still urged residents not to gather with those outside their household for the holidays.
Nesathurai echoed this sentiment, stating, “We each have a part to do with COVID-19. In this health district the advice we’ve been giving for a long time is to stay at home unless you have a compelling reason to leave the house…. I know that it is difficult during the holiday period not to invite members of your family or friends from other households for dining events, but to the extent that people in the community can follow through on the recommendations that would be a good thing.”
The lockdown will remain in place until at least January 23, 2021 for southern Ontario and until at least January 9 for northern Ontario. Additionally, all northern Ontario schools and elementary schools in southern Ontario will be closed for in-person classes until at least January 11, while secondary schools in southern Ontario will be closed for in-person classes until at least January 25: “We will keep a close eye if it’s safe to lift restrictions or if they need to be extended,” said Ford.
Childcare centres are expected to remain open for the duration of the lockdown. Essential businesses are also allowed to continue operations, although further restrictions have been put in place, such as a reduced capacity. Essential businesses include any store that primarily sells food, pharmacies, and liquor stores. Businesses such as dining establishments, hardware stores, pet stores, and general retail stores may only operate through curbside pickup or delivery, with no patrons entering the business.
“I remain optimistic we will be able to reduce case counts with these additional restrictions. Time will only tell,” said Nesathurai. “I would not be surprised if these restrictions continue beyond the 28 days, but we’ll only be in a position to comment on that as the 28 days progresses.”
Ford was hopeful in his speech, stating, “The vaccines are on their way. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and I’m asking everyone to stay strong just a little bit longer. Together, we’ll get through this.”
Measures in effect during the lockdown
- Restricting indoor organized public events and social gatherings, except with members of the same household (the people you live with). Individuals who live alone may consider having exclusive close contact with one other household.
- Prohibiting in-person shopping in most retail settings. Curbside pickup and delivery can continue. Discount and big box retailers selling groceries will be limited to 25% capacity for in-store shopping. Supermarkets, grocery stores, and similar stores that primarily sell food, as well as pharmacies, will continue to operate at 50% capacity for in-store shopping.
- Restricting indoor access to shopping malls. Patrons may only go to a designated indoor pickup area (by appointment only), essential retail stores that are permitted to be open (e.g. pharmacy, grocery store), or, subject to physical distancing and face covering requirements, to the food court for takeout. Shopping malls may also establish outdoor designated pickup areas.
- Prohibiting indoor and outdoor dining. Restaurants, bars, and other food or drink establishments will be permitted to operate by take out, drive through, and delivery only.
- Limiting religious services to 10 people.