TORONTO — Another 27 people with COVID-19 have died in Ontario, where the total number of cases surged to at least 3,630 as another provincewide alert went out on Saturday telling people to stay home if at all possible.

The province has now had at least 94 known coronavirus deaths, far more than any other province, although Quebec has reported many more cases. Ontario has projected between 3,000 and 15,000 lives could be lost to the pandemic even with stiff stay-home restrictions.

Premier Doug Ford said again on Saturday only essential workers should go out unless it’s for getting groceries or other absolutely necessary reasons. To drive home the message, Ford announced another emergency alert would go out.

“We all know now that tens of thousands of lives are at stake,” Ford said. “We are in the fight of our lives.”

Shortly after 2 p.m., the alert was issued in English and French, warning people that ignoring self-isolation and physical distancing could have “devastating effects” and put lives at risk.

The elderly continue to be most susceptible to the worst effects of COVID-19. Two more residents of the hard-hit Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ont., have died from the disease, the home’s administrator reported. In all, the virus has killed 22 residents at the seniors home as well as the wife of one resident, one of the worst outbreaks in the country.

“This is an especially trying time for all of us who are part of the Pinecrest community and we are all affected by this loss,” Pinecrest administrator Mary Carr said. “Even one loss in our home leaves a lasting mark on our residents, their families, and our care team and these recent deaths have been felt by the whole community.”

Staff have moved residents with flu-like symptoms of the virus into one wing and were trying to keep them as isolated as possible. At least 24 staff members at the facility have also tested positive for COVID-19.

Local health authorities also reported a staff member at the Van Horne and Willowdale Retirement Residences in Smiths Falls, Ont., had tested positive for the coronavirus. The person was at home in self-isolation.

The pandemic has prompted most commercial activity in the province to shut down as political and health leaders implement measures to stem the spread and prevent hospitals from becoming overloaded. Keeping away from others and frequent hand-washing are the recommended ways to do that.

The stringent anti-pandemic measures have sparked massive economic disruption and cost businesses and individuals their income.

Toronto Mayor John Tory called on Ontario to ban evictions for small business tenants the same way it has done for residential tenants. Being able to pay rent is the biggest concern he has been hearing from small businesses in the city, Tory said.

“They are scared they can’t hang on, and the rent that is payable is one of the biggest factors,” Tory said. 

The mayor implored landlords to sit down with tenants to work out a way to help businesses defer rent payments.

The Ontario government effectively put a stop to evictions for residential tenants last month by cancelling all Landlord and Tenant Board hearings. Ford said he would look into a report that evictions were still occurring in the northwest.

The province also announced a new web portal — at Ontario.ca/AgFoodJobs — to connect workers with employers looking to fill positions in the agri-food sector. The idea is to ensure grocery store shelves remain full during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Right now, there are important jobs that need to be filled across the food supply chain,” Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on April 4, 2020

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

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