Ontario Premier Doug Ford ordered yet another set of restrictions Friday to try to curb the spread of the pandemic, but some of those measures ran into a firestorm of criticism, so much so that he had to reverse them.
Still, COVID-19 daily case counts in Ontario continue to sky rocket, reaching more than 4,000 a day over the weekend, and hospitals are filling up with COVID-19 patients. Ford admitted, the province is on the ropes.
“We’re losing the battle between the variants and the vaccines," Ford said. "We’re on our heels”
It has become an almost weekly increase in restrictions, as Ontario's government scrambles to contain the rapid spread of the third wave of the pandemic. The new measures come in response to intensive care units bursting to capacity.
"Over the next two weeks, it’s likely we will exceed 800. We are on track over the next two or three weeks to actually hit almost 1,000 patients in intensive care units. And unless we’re able to break that, we could actually see higher and higher levels," said Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of Ontario’s Science Advisory Table.
That could also result in a protocol where health care professionals have to decide who gets a hospital bed and who doesn’t. Ford asked other provinces for health care resources, such as intensive care staff. He has also asked the federal government for more vaccines.
Ford’s new restrictions extend the state of emergency and the stay-at-home order for an additional 2-6 weeks. Ford said his government has few options left.
"‘We’ve implemented the strictest measures in all of North America and the difficult truth is every public health measure we have left comes with a massive cost to people and their lives," he said.
Ford went on to outline some of the new measures.
"Outdoor gatherings will now be strictly limited to members of your own household only. We’ll be closing all non-essnetial construction. We’re restricting all outdoor recreational amenities. We’re reducing capacity in big box retail even further to 25%. We’re setting up checkpoints at all interprovincial borders," he said.
Ford said he also wants the federal government in Ottawa to tighten up Canada’s international borders.
"We’re currently facing the devastating consequences of COVID variants that entered Canada through our borders at the start of this year. We need to do more to stop other, even deadlier variants from getting into Canada," he said.
Ford also announced sweeping new powers for police across the province to stop people and vehicles to ask why they were not observing the stay-at-home order. But within hours of that announcement, several police forces, including Toronto’s, said they would not enforce that order and civil libertarians threatened legal action, arguing the move was unconstitutional.
By Saturday, Ford had walked back that measure and said immunization efforts would be refocused to those neighborhoods where there are "hot spots."
He still faces sharp criticism, mainly from health care professionals, who say the measures fall short -- again.
"The role of government is to protect the citizens and keep them safe. And right now, human lives and public health have to take priority over the economy," said Dr. Kali Barrett, a critical care physician in Toronto.
Barrett and other doctors said there must be paid sick leave benefits, so workers who are sick can stay home instead of being forced to go to work to feed their families.