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New Ontario COVID-19 restrictions take effect today amid 'explosive' growth in hospitalizations

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Ontario residents and business across the province will face a new set of restrictions Wednesday meant to curb the rampant spread of COVID-19.

The measures were announced by Premier Doug Ford on Monday and go into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 5.

The restrictions, a return to Step Two of the province’s reopening plan, include the closure of indoor dining, food courts, gyms and theatres, as well as lower capacity limits in most other settings.

Most personal care services will be allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity, though some settings such as saunas and steam rooms will have to be closed.

Social gatherings are limited to five people indoors and 10 people outdoors.

The new restrictions come amid what Health Minister Christine Elliott's office called Tuesday “explosive growth in hospitalizations.”

There were 2,081 people in Ontario hospitals with COVID-19 as of Wednesday morning, up from 1,290 on Tuesday. That figure includes patients who were admitted for COVID-19 as well as those who were admitted for other reasons and are now testing positive for COVID-19. A week ago the figure stood at 491.

According to the latest data published by the Ontario Hospital Association, 87.4 per cent of Ontario’s hospital beds were occupied as of Sunday.

“While Delta’s severity required a focus on our ICU admissions, Omicron has resulted in a sudden and significant increase in hospital admissions, as well as a recent increase in staffing challenges in many critical sectors due to the rapid rise in Omicron exposures,” Elliott’s office said. “While the first few weeks of December saw hospital admissions remain stable, we’ve recently started to see explosive growth in hospitalizations.”

The rapid spread of the virus has resulted in a seven-day rolling average of 14,435 new daily cases, though health officials have warned that the true figure is likely much higher but unconfirmed due to testing limitations and backlogs.

The highly contagious nature of the variant has forced many people with symptoms to isolate at home, leaving many industries woefully understaffed, including hospitals and other health-care settings.

As part of the new restrictions, the government is requiring businesses to have employees work from home unless the nature of their work requires them to be on-site.

While the government had initially announced that schools would return to in-person learning on Wednesday, students will be learning virtually until at least Jan. 17.

CP24 spoke with a number of business owners Tuesday who expressed frustration and concern about what the new restrictions will mean for their livelihoods.

A number of doctors also expressed concern that more might need to be done in order to reign in the virus.

Infectious diseases expert Dr. Abdu Sharkawy told CP24 he’s concerned that some of the restrictions such as school closures are “blunt instruments” which won’t help curb transmission after they end.

“What we need is true safety measures. Are we going to provide more effective masks for everybody going into the school environments and in every essential work environment? Is there going to be expanded eligibility and mobilization of booster vaccine clinics for every age group, particularly kids and education staff?” Sharkawy said.

“Those are the things that we need, in addition to mobilization of oral therapies and discussions with Health Canada and other stakeholders to help do things that are going to help people stay out of hospital if they start to exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 and not wait until a bottleneck crushes our system because I'm really quite worried that that's what we're looking at over the next 10 to 14 days.”

The restrictions will be in place until at least Jan. 26, the Ford government said this week.

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