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Ontario Hospital Association calls for ‘robustly enforced’ 4-week lockdown for regions in red zone

TORONTO — The Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) is calling on the provincial government to implement and enforce a four-week lockdown in every public health unit placed, or considered to be placed, in the “red” zone of the COVID-19 framework.

In a statement issued on Thursday morning, the association called for “immediate action” as the number of daily infections and hospitalizations related to the novel coronavirus continues to grow.

“A growing number of hospitals are grappling with outbreaks, and many have already had to cancel scheduled surgeries and other activity. Ontario’s health care professionals are being asked to carry a very heavy burden,” the OHA said.

“The situation is extremely serious. We are now in the holiday season and if members of the public choose to ignore public health measures and gather outside their households, the consequences risk overwhelming Ontario’s hospitals. Every health care system has its breaking point.”

For the third day in a row, Ontario has logged more than 2,000 new COVID-19 cases in a 24-hour period. The provincial death toll related to the disease also surpassed 4,000 this week.

Due to the rising number of infections, the OHA is recommending that, as a minimum, the Ontario government implement a four-week lockdown in every public health unit with an infection rate of 40 per 100,000 people or higher. They also ask that the lockdown be “robustly” enforced.

“This is in keeping with the criteria laid out in the government’s COVID-19 Response Framework, and is necessary to protect the health and safety of the people of Ontario and to ensure that hospitals do not face a devastating surge in COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization and intensive care in January.”

Under the province’s current framework, regions with a weekly incidence rate of more than 40 people per 100,000 are placed in the “red” zone, the final category before a full lockdown. Public events and social gatherings are limited to five people indoors and 25 people outdoors and establishments such as restaurants and gyms are allowed to remain open for in-person dining with strict capacity limits.

As of Thursday, six public health units are in the “red zone,” including Durham, Halton, Hamilton, Middlesex-London, Simcoe-Muskoka, and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph.

According to Wednesday’s provincial epidemiology report, there are 10 other public health units reporting a weekly incidence rate of more than 40 people per 100,000, using the week of Dec. 6 to Dec. 12 as a reference.

Toronto, Peel Region, York Region, and Windsor-Essex are the only areas currently under lockdown, or in the “grey’ zone.

“This expanded lockdown would provide a valuable opportunity for the Government of Ontario to reset and recalibrate the components of its response to ensure that we are able to gradually re-open safely,” the OHA said.

“To succeed, it requires that all levels of government work together to provide essential financial supports to businesses being asked to make sacrifices due to the lockdown, and programs such as paid sick leave and isolation accommodation for people with COVID-19 who do not have the financial means to avoid working outside the home.”

The OHA is also calling for the “grey” zone in the province’s framework to be “rapidly re-evaluated” by independent public health and epidemiological experts “to determine if additional, stricter provisions are necessary.”

Toronto officials have said they are already in discussion with the province over the implementation of stricter and more broad lockdown measures over the holidays in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the city, but no details have been provided regarding what that would look like.

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