By Kaitlyn Clark
The Haldimand Press
HALDIMAND—The Ontario government announced February 8, 2021 that the stay-at-home order would be extended for most of the province, but that a transition back to the colour-coded regional approach would begin gradually.
“Today we’re seeing some sunlight break through the clouds,” Premier Doug Ford said. “My friends, the measures are working. Staying home is saving lives.”
However, Ford also warned that “we’re not clear of this storm yet,” noting continuing pressure on intensive care units, the appearance of multiple new variants within the province, and the temporary delays seen for vaccines.
The five-colour tiered system was in place before the provincial lockdown began on December 26. The Province is expected to make final decisions on lifting the order on a region-by-region basis; if approved, they will determine at that time what level the region would be placed in within the tiered system.
Three regions were expected to see the end of the stay-at-home order on February 10, returning to the green level of the tiered system. Almost all other regions, including Haldimand Norfolk, are expected to continue the stay-at-home order until at least February 16. Only Toronto, Peel, and York regions will remain, with the order currently targeted to end February 22.
However, the tiered system will have some changes compared to Decemeber. To support the province’s economic recovery, even the strictest level of the tiered system, grey, will allow in-person shopping to resume in most retail settings. Capacity for general retailers will be limited to 25% at this level, including big box stores, liquor stores, and hardware stores, although pharmacies and stores that primarily sell food will remain at 50% capacity. Personal care services will not be able to reopen under the grey level.
“Our number one priority will always be protecting the health and safety of all individuals, families, and workers across the province,” said Premier Ford. “But we must also consider the severe impact COVID-19 is having on our businesses. That’s why we have been listening to business owners, and we are strengthening and adjusting the framework to allow more businesses to safely reopen and get people back to work.”
Local Medical Officer of Health Dr. Shanker Nesathurai said that the decision to relax public health measures sits with the Province, and that they must be “sensitive” to both the effects of a lockdown and the need for public safety measures to contain COVID-19.
The Province also spoke of an “emergency brake” that will allow the immediate shift of a region into the grey level designation in the case of rapid new cases or the health system being overwhelmed. A Provincial press release noted this is particularly important “recognizing the risk posed by new variants” that could spread more quickly or have a greater burden on the health system. Ontario previously announced a six point plan to limit the spread of the variants, including mandatory testing on arrival of international travellers.
“While we are seeing our numbers trend in the right direction, our situation remains precarious as the variants of concern remain a serious risk,” said Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ontario. “This is not a reopening or a ‘return to normal’ and we must continue to limit close contact to our immediate households and stay at home except for essential reasons. By continuing to follow all public health and workplace safety measures, we can continue to reduce the number of new cases and the strain on our health system.”
Nesathurai said there is still no evidence that the single case of the UK variant seen in Haldimand Norfolk has spread, but he warned that this “doesn’t mean it isn’t in the health district, only that we haven’t identified it.” He noted that additional processes have been put in place to increase contact tracing for anyone considered high risk.
“My comments are tempered by the fact that this is a new disease. We have to work with the information and experience we have,” said Nesathurai. “As a general construct, viruses do mutate…. Likely the vaccine we have is effective against the new variants, but we would have to see as time moves forward.”
Vittoria vaccine pilot project
Nesathurai intends to “roll out the vaccination program as quickly and efficiently as we can” by building on the multi-channel flu vaccination system.
“We want to be able to vaccinate 1,000 people a day if we can get 1,000 vaccines a day,” he said.
In order to prepare for large vaccination centres that would vaccinate many people in one day, the Haldimand Norfolk Health Unit, in partnership with local health agencies, ran a pilot project at the Vittoria Community Centre last week to test how such a centre might work.
“We received permission to vaccinate 100 community living elderly people,” explained Nesathurai. “This gave us information on how we can scale this up to vaccinate more people.”