THUNDER BAY - New COVID-19 modeling for Ontario is showing that the province could see 10,000 new daily cases by the end of May and with such stark figures facing the health care system, the provincial government is enacting stronger restrictions in an effort to slow the spread.
Effective immediately, the province is extending the province-wide stay-at-home order by another two weeks, for a total of six weeks.
Beginning on Monday, inter-provincial travel will be restricted to only essential purposes such as work, medical care, and the transportation of goods. Checkpoints will be added at border crossings between Ontario and Manitoba and Quebec. Anyone without a permitted reason for travelling to the province will be turned back.
As of Saturday, April 17 at 12:01 a.m. limits on capacity in essential retail businesses is lowered to 25 per cent, while other businesses can continue to offer curbside pickup. There are also new limits on outdoor gatherings to only with members of the same household, and restricting access to outdoor amenities such as parks, playgrounds, and golf courses.
All non-essential constructions projects will be stopped, places of worship are limited to a capacity of no more than 10 people indoors or outdoors for services, weddings, and funerals.
“We are losing the battle between the variants and the vaccines,” said Premier Doug Ford. “The pace of vaccine supply have not kept up with variants. We are on our heels. But if we dig in, remain steadfast, we can turn this around.”
There will also be increased enforcement of the stay-at-home order.
"We have made the difficult decision to give police and bylaw officers special authorities to enforce public health measures for the duration of the stay-at-home order," Ford said. "I know the majority of Ontario residents are doing the right thing, they are following the rules, but we need to step-up enforcement. We need to focus on those who are deliberately putting others at risk by ignoring the stay-at-home order."
According to Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, these new temporary authorities during the stay-at-home order include allowing police officers and bylaw officers to require any individual not in a place of residence to provide their purpose for not being at home and provide a home address.
"Police will also have the authority to stop a vehicle to inquire about an individual's reason for leaving their residence," Jones said. "I cannot stress this enough, it is imperative that everyone limit their trips outside of the home for permitted purposes only."
Those found to be breaking the stay-at-home order can face a $750 fine.
The province set another record with 4,812 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, surpassing the previous record set just the day before of 4,736 new cases.
There are currently 1,955 people in hospital with COVID-19 and a record high 701 in intensive care units.
According to the province’s top doctors, variants now account for the majority of new cases in Ontario. With moderate restrictions in place for four weeks, the province could see as many as 10,000 new daily cases by the end of May.
In a worst-case scenario, with no public health restrictions, that number could have been as high as 30,000 new daily cases.
The province’s top doctors said six week stay-at-home order and more than 100,000 vaccinations a day are needed to flatten the curve.
“As we saw on the modeling, these actions have slowed the spread,” Ford said. “They have reduced mobility and avoided the worst case. But we have to do more. The reality is there are few options left. We have implemented the strictest measures in all of North America. Every public health measure we have left comes at a massive cost for people and their lives. But we have never shied away from doing what’s necessary.”
In the Thunder Bay District, cases continue to fall, with only 57 COVID-19 cases now considered active, the lowest since Jan. 8.
Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, Ontario’s science advisory co-chair, praised local efforts to bring the virus under control, saying the rest of the province needs to be more like Thunder Bay.
Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce president, Charla Robinson, said more restrictions are discouraging for businesses already feeling the pinch from prolonged shutdowns.
"That means we need more support," she said. "We need financial support to help these businesses who are required to close further and we hope the government will provide that support."
Robinson added that it's a relief curbside pickup will still be permitted for small businesses, as it still offers a means of providing products and services to customers.
"We have been through seven weeks of lockdown already and we are seeing the positive impacts of that," she added. "We know it works. But we need those financial supports."