Ontario’s Prime Minister Doug Ford will on Thursday announce a gradual lifting of public health restrictions implemented earlier this month to quell a powerful wave of COVID-19 in the province driven by the more infectious Omicron variant.
Sources familiar with the government’s decision said Ontario will allow restaurants to restart indoor dining with 50 percent capacity from Jan. 31, with other restrictions to be lifted in February. Initially, Ontario had identified January 26 as a potential reopening date when it introduced the new restrictions and announced it would close schools for two weeks on January 3.
The Globe and Mail do not identify the sources as they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
On Wednesday, Health Secretary Christine Elliott said Ontario saw “glimmers of hope” in its fight against the Omicron variant, while Mr Ford said this week that he expected to make a “positive” announcement soon.
COVID-19 cases are expected to peak this month, Elliott said, with a highlight in the hospital and intensive care unit to follow. New hospital admissions double approximately every two weeks, instead of doubling every seventh day, as was the case just a few weeks ago, she said.
“I want to be aware that February will continue to pose challenges, especially for our hospitals, as people continue to need care for COVID-19,” Elliott said.
“But our goal has always been to ensure that there is capacity to provide care to those who need it. Given the current trends, we are more and more confident in our ability to do so. “
When the government announced a new round of public health restrictions earlier this month – including the closure of many types of businesses – it was done to avoid overwhelming hospitals, Elliott said.
“I want to assure the ontarians that we are beginning to see glimmers of hope,” she said. “The sacrifices you are making now have meant that we are beginning to see signs of stabilization.”
Kieran Moore, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said the number of hospitalizations and cases in the intensive care unit is increasing at a slower pace. The average hospital stay for COVID-19 patients is now five days with the Omicron variant compared to nine days with Delta, he said.
“I’m starting to have more hope and cautious optimism,” said Dr. Moore.
The government announced on January 3 that restaurants were ordered closed for indoor dining. Museums, zoos and other such attractions were shut down, as were gyms, indoor recreation facilities, cinemas and indoor concert venues, while retail and personal care were limited to 50 percent capacity.
Schools were also moved online for two weeks earlier this month, with teaching resuming in person this week. The schools themselves have not had a significant impact on the COVID-19 transfer, said Dr. Moore.
Ontario reported 4,132 people in the hospital on Wednesday with COVID-19 and 589 people on intensive care – a drop in hospital admissions from 4,183 the day before, but an increase in ICU patients from 580.
Matt Anderson, executive director of Ontario Health, which manages the province’s health care system, noted that at the peak of the third wave, there were nearly 900 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.
“However, it is important to remember that even if these key measures go in the right direction, we do not feel it in the hospitals,” he said.
“We are not aware of these benefits for a number of weeks yet. We still have hospitals that are in very challenging circumstances as we deal with these rising numbers.”
59 new deaths were reported on Wednesday – the highest in about a year.
Dr. Moore said he is trying to determine what lies behind the large daily number of deaths reported this month, including vaccination status of people who died, and whether COVID-19 caused or was associated with the death.
But he said he believes a “significant share” is related to the Delta variant.
“As we all remember, we had that Delta rise at the end of December, and then Omicron took over Delta, [which] is a much more serious pathogen, had a higher death rate associated with it, ”said Dr. Moore.
“[When] someone is admitted to the hospital, then they are often transferred to the intensive care unit, and if they worsen, they are intubated in order to maintain the oxygenation level. And then they either pull through, or unfortunately a significant part dies, and that process often takes four to six weeks. ”
With reports from The Canadian Press
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