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Ford government hitting ’emergency brake’ to put all Ontario in lockdown: sources

Premier Doug Ford’s government will announce on Thursday that it is putting the entire province under blocking restrictions for 28 days, several sources told CBC News.

The move to all public health facilities will take effect on Saturday under what the government has called its “emergency brake” provisions.

The restrictions would not be as strict as the provincial blockade that was imposed in December, according to the sources.

Non-essential retail stores would be allowed to open, but with occupancy limited to 25 percent of the maximum, while essential retail stores, such as grocery stores, would be limited to 50 percent occupancy, a source said.

Indoors meals would be banned in restaurants, but the sources were unclear as to whether the patios would remain open as currently allowed in the lockout zones.

The third wave of COVID-19 has grown steadily in Ontario since early March. The supply of vaccines hasn’t come quickly enough to rein in the spread of more contagious and deadlier variants of the virus among the general population

Construction will remain open, as will religious services, although capacity limits are in place, the sources said.

Some outdoor activities, such as golf, would be allowed, but indoor gym facilities and personal care services, such as beauty salons, would be closed.

Schools are expected to continue normally for the next week, although the cabinet has not yet decided what will happen after the spring break, which takes place in the week of April 12, the sources said.

The decision by the Ford office on Wednesday followed news that Ontario hospitals have a record number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.

Critical Care Services Ontario reported 421 patients with the virus in the ICU across the province. The previous peak of 420 occurred in mid-January, during the height of the second wave of the pandemic.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Ford said he was “extremely concerned” about the increase in ICU admissions and the daily case count.

Asked by a reporter about the possibility of any further restrictions taking effect to help contain current trends, Ford said “stay tuned” and added that an announcement will be made on Thursday.

Among the 34 public health units in the province, 22 are currently under what the government calls blocking (gray) or control (red) restrictions.

Ontario reported an average of about 2,300 new cases of COVID-19 a day last week.

On December 21, when Ford announced plans to block the entire province after Christmas, the average number of new daily cases was 2,276.

A fundamental difference between the situation in December and the current third wave is that Ontario’s most vulnerable people dying from COVID-19 – long-term care residents – have been widely vaccinated against the disease.

The latest provincial figures show only 10 active cases among long-term care residents. More than 15,000 residents were infected during the course of the pandemic, and more than 3,750 of them died.

The count of new COVID-19 cases in Ontario schools last week was the highest weekly total since the start of the pandemic. In the week of March 22, schools recorded 1,222 cases between staff and students. The previous record was 999, during the last week of school before the Christmas holiday.

Education unions in some of the most affected regions are calling for classes to be transferred to the Internet – just immediately after this long weekend.

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