There’s now a six-point plan to deal with the spread of the COVID-19 variants in Ontario.
Highlights of the plan include no lifting of the state of emergency until at least February 9th or the stay-at-home order until February 11th.
All international travellers coming into the province through Toronto’s Pearson International Airport will be required to have a COVID-19 test beginning Monday. Premier Doug Ford says land border testing will be coming soon for people driving across the Canada-US border. Ford says while the province supports the feds new travel restrictions, it will take too long to put into play so this is a stop-gap measure to protect Ontario, “We welcome the new measures announced by the federal government today, but we need a stop-gap to prevent new cases, including variant cases, from arriving in Ontario until those measures are fully in place.” There have been five cases of the new variants caught at Pearson through voluntary testing of travellers. Anyone who refuses the mandatory testing as of Monday, February 1st will be given a ticket for $750.00.
Ford says the government can’t take anything for granted with the new COVID-19 variants from the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil, “I’ve sounded the alarm bell before, I’ve said it’s not a matter of if, it’s when.” So far there are 51 confirmed cases of the UK COVID-19 variant in Ontario.
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams says right now the province is reviewing data before it implements a new policy on masking, whether that’s double masking or making residents wear medical or surgical masks in public places. Williams says a decision on that is coming shortly.
Williams had said previously that Ontario would have to see less than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 a day to lift the stay-at-home order. Friday afternoon he said that original thought was dependent on the strain on Ontario’s hospitals with just the known COVID-19 virus. He says now the province is considering data from the United Kingdom where they are experiencing higher levels of the new variant and trying to determine if hospitalizations and mortality data is higher. Williams says initial new data shows those benchmarks are higher with the UK variant. A decision on when the stay-at-home order will be lifted depends on hospital admission rates and what kind of pressure it puts on the province’s healthcare system. Williams says when that data is reviewed an adjustment to the threshold of when to lift the lockdown will be made.
In detail here is the government’s six-point plan:
Mandatory Testing of Travelers: To address the risks associated with variants of concern to the health of Ontarians, the Chief Medical Officer of Health is issuing a Section 22 order under Section 77.1 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act, mandating on-arrival testing for international travellers at Toronto Pearson International Airport effective at 12:01 a.m. on February 1, 2021, and exploring additional testing measures at Pearson International Airport and land border crossings in the coming weeks.
Enhanced Screening and Sequencing: Led by Public Health Ontario, the provincial diagnostic lab network is ramping up capacity to screen all positive COVID-19 tests in Ontario for known variants within two to three days of initial processing. This new measure will take effect as of February 3, 2021. Public Health Ontario (PHO) will also undertake and coordinate genomic sequencing efforts to identify new and emerging variants by sequencing up to 10 percent of all positive tests by February 17, 2021.
Maintain Public Health Measures: Given the emerging evidence that the variants of concern are more transmissible and may cause more severe disease in some individuals, lifting of public health and workplace safety measures will not be considered at this time until more information on the variant spread is known and overall trends in public health indicators improve. The declared provincial emergency and stay-at-home order were recently extended until February 9, 2021.
Strengthen Case and Contact Management: The provincial workforce will continue supporting public health units to ensure cases and contacts are reached as soon as possible and monitored through their quarantine period. All asymptomatic contacts will be asked to repeat testing on or after day 10 of their quarantine, and the entire household of all contacts and symptomatic individuals will be asked to stay home until the contact has a negative test.
Enhancing Protections for Vulnerable Populations: Dependent on supply from the federal government, the province will continue with the accelerated vaccination of residents in long-term care, high-risk retirement, and First Nations elder care homes. The province is also introducing a provincial antigen screening program for the expansion of rapid testing in high priority settings, such as long-term care homes, retirement homes, essential workplaces, schools, and congregate living settings.
Leveraging Data: The province will work with a made-in-Ontario technology company DNAstack to immediately establish a genomics databank and real-time analytics dashboard to empower the province’s public health officials and improve the government’s planning related to pandemic response. This will enhance the province’s capacity to identify known and emerging variants of COVID-19.