Curfew, construction closures on table as modelling warns that COVID case counts could reach 18,000: sources
Published Thursday, April 15, 2021 11:09AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, April 15, 2021 5:44PM EDT
The Ford government is considering a number of new public health restrictions ahead of the release of new modelling which will warn that up to three-quarters of the province’s ICU beds could be occupied by COVID-19 patients by the end of next month, multiple sources have told CP24 and CTV News Toronto.
The projections set to be released to the public tomorrow warn that daily case counts could be between 12,000 and 18,000 by the end of May with the number of COVID patients in intensive care units surpassing 1,600 and potentially going as high as 1,800 by then, the sources say.
That would equate to roughly three-quarters of the 2,300 ICU beds that are available in Ontario hospitals on a typical day, leaving little to no capacity to treat other patients with life-threatening conditions or injuries.
Premier Ford’s cabinet met Thursday to review the modelling and a number of new restrictions are believed to be under consideration.
Sources say that cabinet is considering shutting down all construction projects that are not deemed critical infrastructure as well placing new limits on non-essential manufacturing and warehouse businesses and introducing fines for non-essential businesses that refuse to let their employees work from home when they are otherwise able to.
They are also considering prohibiting indoor weddings, funerals and religious services and introducing a provincewide curfew. Sources say that enhanced enforcement powers for police are on the table as well, though it is unclear what that might mean.
It should be noted that all of these proposals have not yet been formally approved and are still being debated by Ford’s cabinet.
News of the potential new restrictions comes in the wake of Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe telling reporters that the situation in Ontario is now “dire.”
“We are taking the advice of the science table, Public Health Ontario and other experts around what evidence there is around potential effective measures that have not been taken yet, what changes that perhaps could be a benefit and looking at what other jurisdictions have done,” she said during a briefing on Thursday afternoon. “So I understand a variety of options are being considered. But the specifics are not available at this point. Once decisions are made, they will come out.”
Opposition has called for action
Ontario Health Executive Vice President Dr. Chris Simpson told CP24 earlier this week that the province’s healthcare system could accommodate up to 900 COVID patients in intensive care through the halting of elective surgeries and the redirecting of some resources.
But he said that if the number were to exceed that, as warned by the modelling, hospitals may have to turn to the “last resort” of enacting the triage protocol that was developed in January. That protocol says that in a scenario where health resources will be exhausted due to the number of patients, those expected to live 12 months or longer post treatment should be given the greatest amount of care and attention.
In an interview with CTV News Toronto earlier on Thursday, Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said that he believes “everything should be on the table,” amid the surging numbers and hospitilizations including “things like temporarily closing down certain parts of the economy or introducing a curfew.”
Yaffe said the government is working to prepare some “potential measures” given the rise in cases but warned that things will likely continue to worsen for at least a few weeks, given the lag in people with COVID-19 arriving in hospital.
She also said that people shouldn't view the situation in Ontario today as an indictment on the effectiveness of the stay-at-home order that went into effect last week.
“It is bad, it is very bad and we need to make it better but it could have been worse,” she said.
Curfew could be considered
The Quebec government has had a curfew in place in Montreal and Laval since the peak of the second wave in January but chose to extend it to 8 p.m. earlier this week, a decision that has been met with several nights of violent protests.
Asked about the idea at Queen’s Park on Thursday afternoon, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones wouldn’t say whether a curfew could be implemented in Ontario but did express concern about the rioting in Montreal.
Meanwhile, in a statement the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said that there is “no evidence” that a curfew would actually slow the transmission of COVID-19.
“There is no evidence that a curfew would help with the public health crisis we are facing. We do know that that a curfew would empower police to stop and question people for no reason,” Cara Zwibel, Director of Fundamental Freedoms for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said. “We should learn from Quebec's experiment with a curfew. There is no evidence it worked in driving down case numbers and what was supposed to be a four-week shock treatment has turned into three months with no end in sight. Let's not go down the same road.”
The province issued a stay-at-home order last week but case counts have continued to climb since then.
In an interview with CP24 earlier on Thursday Dr. Andrew Boozary, who is the executive director of social medicine at the University Health Network, said that the Ford government needs to be doing whatever it can right now to get vaccines out to the neighbourhoods that are “on fire.”
He said that there also continues to be a need for additional supports for essential workers, including paid sick days.
“What we decide not to do will continue to haunt us as it has over the last few weeks,” he warned.
'We really have to get aggressive right now'
The projections are frightening, critical care physician Dr. Brooks Fallis told CP24 Thursday evening.
"Everyone will stretch and continue to stretch as much as we can. But there is a limit to the number of spaces for patients, the number of staff to care for those patients," Fallis said.
"And even with hospitals bringing in doctors with no experience in ICU to help out and help the nurses in the ICU and trying to bring in as much overtime and extra time as we can, it will just become impossible."
While a curfew would help in further limiting mobility, Fallis said the government should focus on non-essential workplaces. He said most of his COVID-19 patients acquired the disease through workplace interactions.
Fallis said the province needs to impose aggressive policies as half-measures will not cut it to fight the surging cases.
"Right now, things are at such a critical moment. If we don't get this under control, the province is in such trouble, and so many people are going to die who don't need to," he said.
"So, now's the time to throw absolutely everything at it. And that means what are the essentials of life that we need for the next six weeks in this province. Everything that doesn't fall under that category should be closed. We really have to get aggressive right now."
Palliative care physician Dr. Naheed Dosani said the situation in Ontario right now was preventable.
"A lot of it could have been dealt with upfront with more strict public health interventions, public health interventions that scientists and experts were calling for from the very beginning," Dosani said in an interview with CP24 Tonight.
"It's also important to note that the social policies that could have helped people like essential workers, including paid sick leave and paid time off for vaccination, are still not in play so that people, especially our essential workers, can be protected through this pandemic."
The Ministry of Health reported a record 4,736 new cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus on Thursday morning, along with another 29 deaths.
The rolling seven-day average of new infections has risen by nearly 36 per cent over the last week alone and now stands at 4,200.
With files from Cristina Tenaglia and Colin D’Mello.