Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott, in a news conference on Monday morning, Jan. 3, announced that, given just how contagious the Omicron variant of COVID-19 was, schools would be shut down for at least two weeks in favour of remote learning, non-urgent procedures at all hospitals would be postponed, indoor sports and recreation facilities shut down and indoor dining at restaurants and bars banned for at least three weeks, effective Wednesday, Jan. 5.
Premier Ford said the number of COVID-19 cases were increasing “exponentially” each day due to Omicron’s high infectiousness. “We face a tsunami of new cases in the days and weeks ahead.”
About one percent of Omicron cases required hospitalization, lower than previous variants, but with Omicron being so much more infectious, the province’s health system could be overtaxed without new public health restrictions.
Ontario could in the coming weeks face hundreds of thousands of new cases each day, he said. Even one percent of them needing hospitalization, even for a day or two compared to the weeks involved in previous variants, could be overwhelming.
One step, Premier Ford continued, would be delaying the return of schoolchildren to in-person learning for the next two weeks.
He also promised that financial support for small businesses, which had borne a disproportionate brunt of restrictions in the past, would be increased.
Minister Elliott outlined new public health restrictions, including limiting indoor social gathering to at most five people and outdoors to 10.
The province would work with businesses to ensure employees who could work remotely would be doing so, she continued.
Indoor dining at restaurants and bars would be closed, and outdoor dining allowed with restrictions. Restaurants would still be able to sell food for takeout or delivery, or at drive-throughs, she said.
Indoor sports and recreation facilities, including gyms, would be closed, as would cinemas, theatres and museums. Retail stores would be limited to a maximum of 50 percent of their capacity for customers, she stated, as would personal-care services.
Indoor weddings, funerals and church services would be limited to a maximum of 50 percent capacity.