Region begins receiving vaccine shipments
Far from being a time to run out and spend your Christmas money, Boxing Day will be the start of a 28-day lockdown across Ontario.
Premier Doug Ford made the long-expected announcement Monday afternoon in response to the growing number of COVID-19 cases.
The lockdown that begins December 26 will run until January 23, subject to an extension of conditions warrant it. Under the new rules, small businesses will be shut down; social gatherings outlawed unless, with your immediate household; discount and box stores will be reduced to 25 per cent of capacity; indoor dining will be prohibited at restaurants, and indoor access to shopping malls restricted to pick-up only.
Childcare centers will be open for those kids not of school age, while students will enjoy an extension of the Christmas holiday.
“We’re asking all Ontarians to stay at home and only leave when absolutely necessary, such as work, groceries, prescriptions or medical appointments,” said Ford in a statement, noting the province-wide measure helps counter the practice of people living in lockdown areas such as the GTA travelling to other locations for shopping and recreational options.
Originally planned for December 24, the lockdown was pushed back a couple of days to allow small businesses time to prepare before the holidays. To help ease the burden, the province also announced new funding for small businesses.
“I know how much our businesses are struggling. That’s why have directed our finance minister to review our existing business support programs, we will be launching the new Ontario small business support grant, which will provide a minimum of $10,000 and up to $20,000 to be eligible small business owners to help them through this challenging time. That’s up to $20,000 to help hundreds of thousands of businesses across the province. And they will decide where those funds are needed most,” said Ford.
While schools are formally part of the lockdown, there will be changes to the schedule, he added.
“I want to be clear: schools are not part of the problem of COVID in our communities. But out of an abundance of caution, school closures over the winter break will be extended,” said Ford, noting the extended break will last until January 11, after which children will attend class remotely until January 25, when they can go back to in-person learning.
In Waterloo Region, health officials are grappling with increased numbers. As of Monday, there were 577 active cases of COVID-19, with 31 people in hospital, 12 of them in intensive care.
“Community transmission is widespread and our health care system is under very heavy strain,” said medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang. “Shutdown will be very difficult and will present hardships for our community, especially through the holiday season. Please stay connected virtually and be mindful of feelings of isolation. If you or someone you know needs help, remember that local mental health support is available.”
A joint statement was issued by Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris and Kitchener South-Hespeler MPP Amy Fee following the announcement.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, health and safety has been our government’s number one priority, which is why we are making this difficult decision to enter into a province-wide shutdown starting December 26. Waterloo Region has slowed the spread of COVID-19 before and we can do it again. We urge everyone to follow public health measures this Christmas and New Year. While this is difficult news for our local small businesses, our government stands ready to provide them with the necessary supports to get through these difficult times. By working together and taking urgent action, we can protect our health care system and save lives.”
Also this week, the region received its first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine, with vaccinations beginning on December 22 for frontline workers in hospitals and long-term care homes.
“After an intense week of planning, today marks a significant step forward in roll-out of the COVID-19 immunization program,” Shirley Hilton, whose heading the region’s vaccine taskforce, said in a release. “I cannot stress enough that vaccination program will take time. Adherence to public guidelines is vital to ensure health of our community while we roll out the vaccine. “
Mass immunization of the general public is not expected until the third quarter of 2021.