Ontario has tapped former head of the Canadian Armed Forces Gen. Rick Hillier to head up a new task force that will oversee the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in the province, Premier Doug Ford announced Monday.
At the province’s daily press conference, Ford said Ontario is being told that the first doses of the vaccine are expected to be ready in early 2021.
“We need military precision,” Ford said, noting that rollout of the vaccine will be a “massive logistical challenge.”
“We will get vaccines to every part of this province when they are ready.”
Still, Health Minister Christine Elliott cautioned that vaccinations are “still months away” and urged people to continue to follow public health guidelines.
Elliott said the province is still waiting to hear exactly when it will start receiving vaccines, but it is expected that Ontario’s most vulnerable and healthcare workers would start getting them before March. They will have to be vaccinated twice in 21 days, she said.
This news comes as Ontario reported 1,589 more cases of COVID-19 on Monday, another single-day record as Toronto and Peel Region move into a second lockdown.
The new cases include 336 in Toronto, 535 in Peel and 205 in York Region. They drive the seven-day average up to 1,423 after six consecutive days of increases.
Other public health units that saw double-digit increases in today’s update were:
- Waterloo Region: 83
- Hamilton: 61
- Windsor: 56
- Halton Region: 53
- Durham Region: 41
- Ottawa: 40
- Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 30
- Simcoe Muskoka: 25
- Niagara Region: 24
- Brant County: 16
- Thunder Bay: 16
- Middlesex-London: 13
[Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary, which include data from up until 4 p.m. the previous day. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, because local units report figures at different times.]
Sixty of the new infections were school-related, including 51 students and nine staff members. A total of 676, or about 14 per cent, of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly-funded schools have reported at least one case of COVID-19. Three schools remain closed due to the illness.
The additional cases come as Ontario’s labs processed 37,471 test samples for the novel coronavirus, and 18,394 were added to the queue to be completed. The province reported an overall test positivity rate of 4.6 per cent.
With today’s update there are currently 13,004 confirmed, active cases of COVID-19 in the province, the most at any point since the outbreak began in late January.
Further, 19 more people with COVID-19 have died, the province said, pushing the official death toll to 3,505. The additional deaths include 11 residents of long-term care and a man in his 20s, the fifth person in their 20s to die with COVID-19 in Ontario. So far this month, 360 people with infections of the novel coronavirus have died provincewide.
The number of people with confirmed cases in hospitals grew by 23, up to 507. Some 156 of those patients are being treated in intensive care. Public health officials have identified 150 as the threshold for when unrelated surgeries and procedures are likely to be postponed because of burdens on the hospital system.
2nd lockdown begins for Toronto, Peel
Meanwhile, Toronto and Peel Region have entered the most restrictive tier of Ontario’s pandemic protection plan.
It means that for at least the next 28 days, non-essential retailers can only offer curbside pickup, while restaurants are closed to all but takeout and delivery orders.
Personal services have also been forced to close, but schools and child-care centres remain open.
Ford announced the move on Friday, but it didn’t come into effect until 12:01 a.m. today.
That gave residents of Toronto and Peel the chance to stock up over the weekend, and many did — flooding local malls, even as those facilities extended hours in an effort to prevent too many people from coming at once.
While Toronto and Peel face the strictest measures, other areas of the province are also seeing rules tighten.
Durham Region and Waterloo joined York Region in the red classification today. The rules limit restaurants, gyms and food courts to 10 indoor patrons with social distancing, with even tighter restrictions on private gatherings.
York’s local medical officer of health, Dr. Karim Kurji, went even further by ordering additional measures aimed at banquet halls and convention centres, as well as retail outlets.
They include at least two metres distancing or a cap of 50 people for both indoor and outdoor events such as weddings and funerals. Shopping malls and stores must also set capacity limits that ensure two metres between shoppers.
Penalties for offenders are fines fines of up to $5,000 per day for an individual and up to $25,000 per day for a corporation.
Unlike his counterparts in Toronto and Peel, Kurji opposed a lockdown in York Region and joined with local politicians and business groups to publicly make their case to the province. Speaking to CBC Radio’s Metro Morning last week, Kurji said the number workplace outbreaks in York was declining and that the public health unit’s contact tracers were managing to reach “virtually 100 per cent” of cases within 24 hours.
The areas around Huron, Perth, Simcoe, Muskoka, and Windsor-Essex have moved to the orange classification, which caps gatherings at staffed businesses to 50 people indoors, or four per table at restaurants.
Motion to extend CMOH’s term
The provincial government introduced a motion in the legislature today to extend the term of Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams.
His five-year tenure was set to expire in February, but the motion would see it lengthened to September 2021.
While Ford has repeatedly praised him for his role in formulating Ontario’s response to COVID-19, Williams has come under increased public scrutiny as a second wave of the illness grips parts of the province.
He was recently criticized by peers for suggesting that even virus hotspots could move into the green “prevent” tier of Ontario’s restrictions framework by Christmas.
Ford again threw his support behind Williams Monday.
“I do not ever believe in changing a dance partner in the middle of a dance, especially when he’s an incredible dancer,” Ford said.