Ontario declares emergency amid surging COVID-19 cases as Canada buys more vaccines

By Moira Warburton and David Ljunggren

TORONTO/OTTAWA (Reuters) – Ontario declared an emergency on Tuesday after latest modelling put Canada’s most populous province on track to have more than 20,000 new COVID-19 cases per day by the middle of February, a nearly ten-fold increase from the current count.

Ontario, which is battling a coronavirus surge that has swamped its hospitals and triggered a province-wide lockdown, could also see roughly 1,500 more deaths in its long-term care homes through mid-February under a worst-case scenario, according to modeling from experts advising the government.

New restrictions that take effect on Jan. 14 mandate that residents must stay at home except for essential activity, while outdoor gatherings will be limited to five people, and non-essential construction work will be restricted.

“I know the stay at home order is a drastic measure, one we don’t take lightly. Everyone must stay home to stay lives,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford at a media briefing. “Enforcement and inspections will increase.”

Canada began targeted vaccinations in December, with current efforts focused on healthcare workers and residents of long-term care homes.

The federal government ordered an additional 20 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer Inc and BioNTech, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Tuesday. That would take the total number of doses to be delivered this year in Canada to 80 million.

Ontario, the country’s economic engine, has been under lockdown since Dec. 26, with non-essential businesses shuttered and schools closed for in-person learning.

Yet the daily number of COVID-19 cases has spiked above 3,500 on average over the past seven days, government data showed. On Tuesday, Ontario reported 2,903 new COVID-19 cases.

Under the worst-case scenario with 7% case growth, there would be 40,000 new cases daily by mid-February, while the best-case scenario with 1% growth would result in 5,000 new cases every day, Ontario’s data showed. Case growth has recently been over 7% on the worst days, the data showed.

In five of the hardest hit areas of Ontario – including the Toronto area, nearby Hamilton, and Windsor-Essex across the border from Detroit – schools will remain closed until at least Feb. 10. Childcare for children who are too young for school will remain open, along with emergency childcare for some school-age children.

“We will have to confront choices that no doctor ever wants to make and no family ever wants to hear,” Dr. Steini Brown, head of Ontario’s case modeling, said at a briefing on Tuesday. “People will die from the virus itself and from the overloaded health system that is unable to respond to their needs.”

Brown warned that the new COVID-19 variant from Britain was already in Ontario and could decrease the doubling time of cases – or how long it takes for case counts to double, currently 30 to 40 days – to 10 days.

Last week Quebec, Canada’s worst-affected province from COVID-19, became the first in the country to introduce a curfew to limit the spread.

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Additional reporting by Allison Martell in Toronto; Editing by Denny Thomas, Paul Simao and Rosalba O’Brien)

Canada’s most populous province makes clear ‘hard lockdown’ needed to fight COVID-19

TORONTO (Reuters) – Health officials in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, on Monday said their ability to control a second wave of COVID-19 was precarious and made clear a “hard lockdown” of four to six weeks was needed.

They made the remarks to reporters just hours before Ontario premier Doug Ford was due to unveil what local media say will be a range of restrictions lasting for a month. These include a shutdown of many non-essential businesses and gyms and limiting bars and restaurants to take out service.

The province announced 2,123 new cases on Monday, the seventh consecutive day the number has exceeded 2,000.

“Our ability to control case growth is still precarious,” said Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory team.

“Based on experience in France and Australia, ‘hard lockdowns’ of 4–6 weeks can reduce case numbers in Ontario to less than 1,000 per day,” he said in a presentation to media.

Other jurisdictions, he added, were six weeks to three months ahead of Ontario and most have used some form of hard lockdown, he added.

The Ontario Hospital Association last week said the health care system could hit breaking point unless people started listening to calls to restrict gatherings.

Around 300 people are in intensive care units but this could jump to 1,500 in mid-January, Brown said.

(Reporting by Moira Warburton, writing by David Ljunggren; Editing by Alistair Bell)

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Biden rejects Trump claim that vaccine is imminent

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Thursday bluntly contradicted President Donald Trump’s suggestion that a coronavirus vaccine may be only weeks away, warning Americans they cannot trust the president’s word.

“The idea that there’s going to be a vaccine and everything’s gonna be fine tomorrow – it’s just not rational,” Biden said during a CNN town hall in Moosic, Pennsylvania.

Trump again said on Wednesday that a vaccine for COVID-19 could be ready for distribution ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

Most health experts, including Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have said a vaccine will likely not be widely available until mid-2021.

Israel imposes second lockdown

Israel will enter a second nationwide lockdown on Friday at the onset of the Jewish high-holiday season, forcing residents to stay mostly at home amid a resurgence in new coronavirus cases.

The country’s initial lockdown was imposed in late March and eased in May as new cases tapered off, reaching lows in the single digits.

But in the past week, new cases have reached daily highs of over 5,000, and Israeli leaders now acknowledge they lifted measures too soon.

The new lockdown will last three weeks and coincides with the start of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, traditionally a time for large family gatherings and group prayer.

UK COVID hospital admissions double every eight days

Britain’s health minister said that the novel coronavirus was accelerating across the country, with hospital admissions doubling every eight days, but he refused to say if another national lockdown would be imposed next month.

The United Kingdom has reported the fifth-highest number of deaths from COVID-19 in the world after the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University of Medicine.

COVID-19 cases started to rise again in Britain in September, with between 3,000 and 4,000 positive tests recorded daily in the last week. More than 10 million people are already in local lockdowns.

China reports highest new cases since Aug. 10

Mainland China reported 32 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, marking the highest daily increase in more than a month and up sharply from nine cases reported a day earlier.

Although the latest increase still remains well below the peaks seen at the height of the outbreak in China early this year, it is the biggest since Aug. 10 and suggests continued COVID-19 risks stemming from overseas travelers coming into the country as the pandemic rages on in other parts of the world.

The National Health Commission said that all new cases were imported infections. Mainland China has not reported any local COVID-19 infections since mid-August.

Canada’s Ontario clamps down on parties

Canada’s most populous province will clamp down on social gatherings to prevent “reckless careless people” from spreading the coronavirus at illegal parties, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said on Thursday.

His warning came as the nation’s top medical officer said authorities could potentially lose the ability to manage the pandemic.

Indoor social events in Toronto, Canada’s biggest city – along with Ontario’s Peel and Ottawa regions – would be authorized to include no more than 10 people, down from a previous limit of 50, Ford said.

“This is a serious situation, folks. We will throw the book at you if you break the rules,” he told a news conference.

(Compiled by Linda Noakes; Editing by Hugh Lawson)