Ontario is reporting more than 11,000 new COVID-19 cases as hospitalizations continue to rise due to the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, which prompted the government to implement a slew of tougher restrictions yesterday.

Health Minister Christine Elliott tweeted on Tuesday that there are at least 1,290 people with the virus in Ontario hospitals, compared to 1,232 a day ago and 491 a week ago.

Of those in hospital, 266 are in intensive care, up from 248 yesterday, and 128 are breathing with the help of a ventilator.

The seven-day rolling average of those in ICU stands at 221.

The surge in hospitalizations comes as the province is experiencing record-high case counts due to the highly contagious Omicron variant.

“While Delta’s severity required a focus on our ICU admissions, Omicron has resulted in a sudden and significant increase in hospital admissions, as well as a recent increase in staffing challenges in many critical sectors due to the rapid rise in Omicron exposures,”  a spokesperson for Elliott said in a statement Tuesday. “While the first few weeks of December saw hospital admissions remain stable, we’ve recently started to see explosive growth in hospitalizations.”

The statement said that ICU admissions, in the meantime, continue to trend “below or within the margins of the best-case scenario projected by the Science Table” back on Dec. 16.

Hospitals are increasingly overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, similar to the abundance of hospitalizations that caused intense strain on the health-care system during the third wave of the pandemic.

As a result, William Osler Health System declared a Code Orange yesterday, a temporary measure to ensure internal and external resources are deployed efficiently to address capacity pressures and staffing challenges.

The province reported today that 10 more people died with the virus in the past month, raising the death toll to 10,239. In the past week, the province reported 70 virus-related deaths that occurred in the last month.

Another 7,519 people recovered from the virus yesterday, resulting in 134,130 active cases today compared to 70,391 active cases a week ago.

Ontario logged 11,352 new coronavirus infections today, down from 13,578 on Monday but up from 8,825 a week ago.

However, Public Health Ontario says the case count is an underestimate of the true number of infections as a large swath of Ontario’s population is no longer eligible for free PCR testing.

In the past few days, the province reported a record 18,445 new infections on Saturday, 16,714 on Sunday and 13,578 on Monday.

The seven-day rolling average of new infections now stands at 14,435, a notable jump from 8,318 a week ago.

Among the latest cases, 9,040 of the individuals are fully vaccinated, 1,647 are unvaccinated, 445 are partially vaccinated and 219 have an unknown vaccination status.

Ontario labs processed more than 49,700 tests in the past 24 hours, producing a positivity rate of 30.9 per cent, compared to 24.9 per cent a week ago, according to the ministry.

However, the number of tests administered yesterday does not reflect the number of sick individuals seeking a test in the province.

Last week, the province changed its test protocol to limit free publicly-funded PCR tests to select high-risk individuals due to a scarcity of tests and unprecedented demand for them.

Groups who are now eligible to receive a test include health-care workers, workers and residents in the highest-risk congregate settings, those experiencing homelessness, Indigenous communities, and those who are seeking care in a hospital emergency room.

The new testing protocol excludes roughly 70 per cent of the population, including young children in daycare who are not yet eligible for vaccines but must be tested if they have symptoms, or else they will have to stay home for 10 days.

In the Greater Toronto Area, Toronto logged 2,480 new COVID-19 cases today, while 1,486 were reported in Peel Region, 1,059 in York, 635 in Durham and 466 in Halton.

As of Dec. 31, 2021, Omicron had an effective reproductive number (Rt) of 1.53, meaning every 100 cases causes an additional 153 infections, according to Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.

Omicron now accounts for approximately 97.2 per cent of all cases in the province.

As of today, over 87 per cent of Ontarians five years and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 81 per cent have received two doses. In addition, more than 3.8 million Ontarians have received their third doses.

To date, there have been 816,449 lab-confirmed coronavirus cases and 672,081 recoveries since the pandemic began two years ago.

Yesterday, Premier Doug Ford announced that the province would return to Step Two of its reopening plan to slow the spread of Omicron and reduce pressure on the health-care system.

As of Wednesday, students will pivot to remote learning for at least the next two weeks, indoor dining, gyms and theatres will be closed and 50 per cent capacity limits will be implemented in retail and other settings. These restrictions will stay in place until at least Jan. 26.

Infectious diseases specialist at Toronto General Hospital Dr. Isaac Bogoch says the stricter measures will hopefully slow down transmission.

“You've got lots of COVID, lots of cases that are landing in hospital, fewer people to take care of them. Obviously these are very, very difficult decisions. I don't envy any decision maker at this time,” he said.

“But the hope here is that this will at least slow it down. I think everyone's realistic, you're not going to stop this wave, you're not going to halt this at all. You might blunt this a little bit, and you might slow it down,” he added.

The numbers used in this story are found in the Ontario Ministry of Health's COVID-19 Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any city or region may differ slightly from what is reported by the province, because local units report figures at different times.