By Nick Bernard
In an announcement on Dec. 17, the Ontario government announced new restrictions in the face of rising COVID-19 case counts, and the continuing spread of the Omicron variant.
“Throughout this entire pandemic, we’ve never faced an enemy like Omicron given how quickly it spreads,” said Premier Doug Ford in a press release issued that afternoon. “We need to do everything we can to slow its spread as we continue to dramatically ramp up capacity to get as many booster shots into arms as possible. Doing so is the best way to safeguard our hospital and intensive care units.”
Effective as of Dec. 19 at midnight, a 50 per cent capacity limit is in place for a number of indoor settings:
- Restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments and strip clubs;
- Personal care services;
- Personal physical fitness trainers;
- Retailers (including grocery stores and pharmacies);
- Shopping malls;
- Non-spectator areas of facilities used for sports and recreational fitness activities (e.g. gyms);
- Indoor recreational amenities;
- Indoor clubhouses at outdoor recreational amenities;
- Tour and guide services;
- Photography studios and services; and
- Marinas and boating clubs.
“The experts have been very clear: nothing will stop the spread of Omicron,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said. “It’s just too transmissible.”
No new announcements about school closures were announced, but Ford said he understood parents’ concerns.
“I know you’re concerned about your kids’ schools, and what to expect after the new year,” he said. “I can tell you this: No decision has been made on what that looks like yet.”
In an email to the Times, the TLDSB confirmed Ford’s statement:
“TLDSB follows the directives of the local and provincial health units and the Ministry of Education in relation to all COVID-19 restrictions; at this time we have not been advised by the medical officer of health or by the Minister of Education that schools will be required to close to in-person learning in January,” the school board said. “TLDSB is currently planning for students and staff to return to in-person learning on January 3, 2022. Should provincial directives change over the holidays, we will communicate to staff and families as promptly as possible.”
Locally, the restrictions have affected organizations like the Highland Storm Minor Hockey team. Their restrictions include a maximum of two spectators per player allowed in the arena, no spectators allowed in the indoor lobby area, and mandatory social distancing and mask use.
On their Facebook page, the Minden Curling Club announced a postponement of their curling season.
“We’re postponing our curling season immediately to help [curb] the spread of Covid 19,” the post said. “Stay safe over the Holiday Season and we will update you in the coming month about when we will be able to open again.”
At Sir Sam’s Ski and Ride, owner Doug Wilkinson says the facility is still working out how to interpret the 50 per cent capacity limit, given the different number of indoor spaces that encompasses Sir Sam’s. Its liquor licence covers a capacity of 650 both indoors and outdoors, while other indoor spaces have a capacity for up to 450.
Wilkinson also said that Sir Sam’s never returned to full capacity after an easing of restrictions in October.
“For the most part, we didn’t go back to full capacity,” Wilkinson said. “So hopefully it’s going to be a minor adjustment … just because, since we’re a ski hill, through the summer [we’re] not very busy, so we never went back to full capacity.”
He said hopefully, any changes the facility does make will be done comfortably and with minimal impact to its current operational status.
“Our understanding is – and we were on a call with the Ministry [of Health] last night – that there’s no impact to capacities outside on the hill,” Wilkinson said. “So there’s no issues on that front.”
In addition, to mitigate COVID-19 transmission that can occur at informal social gatherings, the province also announced it was reducing social gathering limits to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.
“This was not an easy decision to make before the holidays, but the evidence is clear that further public health measures are required to slow the spread of Omicron and prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “As we expand booster eligibility and continue our Team Ontario effort to get as many shots into arms as possible, I am urging every single person to get their vaccine if they haven’t already done so, and sign up for their booster shot as soon as possible.”
In addition, in response to emerging global evidence of substantial increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant, the Chief Medical Officer of Health is updating the personal protective equipment requirements outlined in Directive 5 to provide interim guidance to require N95s for health care workers providing direct care to or interacting with a suspected, probable or confirmed case of COVID.
According to the provincial government’s Dec. 17 press release, the latest modelling suggests that the increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant could put additional strain on Ontario’s hospital capacity, making it critical to slow the spread as the government dramatically increases vaccine capacity and expands eligibility for third booster doses. The province recently doubled its vaccination capacity and continues to ramp up further to get as many vaccines into arms as possible. Over 156,000 doses were administered on Dec. 16 with capacity increased to 200,000 to 300,000 in the coming days.
– with files from the Minden Times