'Don't make plans for Easter': Ford says further lockdown measures on the table again

‘Don’t make plans for Easter’: Ford says further lockdown measures on the table again

Faced with increasing pressure on intensive care units, Premier Doug Ford said he's once again considering imposing additional lockdown measures on the province.

“Everything’s on the table. Be prepared," said Ford at a press conference Tuesday. "I am asking you: don’t make plans for Easter. I won’t hesitate to lock things down if I have to. I did it before, I will do it again.”

Ford indicated no decisions have been made yet but added he'd be out in front of the public in the coming days.

It comes as Ontario hospitals are facing immense pressure, particularly in intensive care units (ICUs).

The province's science advisory table released a brief on the variants of concern driving the third wave.

It found more COVID-19 patients are in hospitals, and ICUs specifically, now than when Ontario initiated the provincewide shutdown on Boxing Day to curb the second wave.

Even with immediate action, there would be a significant delay until the full burden to the health-care system is shown, it found.

Meanwhile, one outspoken ICU physician shared an excerpt from a memo to hospitals asking them to prepare to accommodate 115 per cent capacity in their ICUs and redeploy health-care workers to ensure staffing.

Dr. Michael Warner, medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital, has previously gone public with a warning that ICUs may have to begin triaging patients — determining who is denied life-saving care — if the situation worsens significantly.

Ford was asked about the criticism he's received from many physicians and public health experts for not acting quickly enough. He replied he has been taking the advice of his chief medical officer of health and at the time when Ontario had fewer than 1,000 new cases a day — which occurred for two periods of less than a week in mid-February and early March — that "things were looking pretty rosy."

But before both of those periods, the province's science advisory table had already begun warning that the variants of concern could result in disaster for the province.

Meanwhile, the opposition slammed Ford for letting the third wave become so severe.

"The fact that we're simply gonna throw up a bunch of field hospitals to deal with the increasing cases is pretty troubling," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, referring to comments from the health minister about creating those facilities in Toronto and Hamilton.

"Field hospitals are physical structures, but we need people," Horwath continued. "You need nurses and doctors and other staff to take care of people in this third wave that seems to be spiralling, spiralling completely out of control."

Liberal health critic John Fraser said the government should be keeping people out of ICUs instead of building more of them, calling the health minister's reassurances that additional beds will be available "callous."

Ford held the press conference to mark retired Gen. Rick Hillier's last day leading the province's vaccine task force.

Hillier said the province is ready to keep up with the supply of vaccines as they arrive.

"And I still believe that by the first day of summer, 20 June, given delivery of the vaccines, we will have a needle in the arm of every eligible person in Ontario who wants one," he added, repeating the promise he became well known for.

The federal government provided an update on the vaccine supply on Tuesday morning that makes that goal closer to within reach.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said the country is now expecting 44 million doses of vaccines by the end of June, thanks to the acceleration of shipments from Pfizer, which is now planning to provide an additional 5 million doses in June.

Ontario's share of the 44 million is about 17 million. The province's population is nearly 15 million people but so far children under 16 are not eligible for any of the vaccines. The province is prioritizing first doses, extending the interval between doses to four months for the vast majority of people, having given only just over 300,000 second doses so far, of 2.3 million shots overall.

Reaching the province's summer target doesn't depend heavily on the AstraZeneca vaccine which is now being limited to Ontarians 55 years and older over concerns about rare cases of blood clots in some younger people. Of Canada's 44 million total doses by the end of June, about 37.5 million are the mRNA vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna. Canada will have received 9.5 million doses in total by the end of the week, of which 2 million are AstraZeneca.

Overall, 6.4 million of the 44 million expected doses are AstraZeneca, including the 500,000 doses already received from the Serum Institute of India, as well as an expected 1.5 million doses from the U.S. arriving this week, plus shipments through the international COVAX vaccine-sharing program and the country's primary contract with AstraZeneca.

The 44 million total doesn't include any of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which has been approved in Canada and which, according to Anand, is now expected to begin arriving at the end of April but has not yet been scheduled.

Despite the news of additional vaccines to come, Ford bemoaned the lack of supply and uncertainty over deliveries in the short term, particularly the repeated delay of 225,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine that had been expected last week and now is not expected until next week, which resulted in the suspension of some of York Region's mass vaccination clinics.

"Every day delayed is a day we miss out on putting more needles and arms," said the premier.

Jessica Smith Cross

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