TORONTO — The top doctors of three COVID-19 hot spots in Ontario are urging the province to impose tougher restrictions, including a stay-at-home order, to address a surge in new infections.

The chief medical officers of health for Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa made the recommendations in a letter to Dr. David Williams, the province’s top doctor.

“A stay-at-home order issued by the province through an Emergency Order is necessary to prevent and mitigate large scale morbidity and mortality and irreparable strain on the health-care system,” said the letter signed by Dr. Eileen da Villa, Dr. Lawrence Loh and Dr. Vera Etches.

The letter comes just days after Premier Doug Ford’s government imposed a provincewide month-long shutdown that critics argue does not go far enough to address more transmissible variants of concern.

The three doctors also appealed to Williams to move schools to online learning in regions with significant COVID-19 outbreaks, remove businesses from the list of essential services, and implement 50 per cent staffing limits for those businesses deemed essential.

They also asked the government to impose travel restrictions between regions within Ontario and for the province to provide paid sick days to supplement the federal program.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott said the shutdown announced last week was aimed at dealing with the third wave of the pandemic, but she noted it takes time for the intended effects of the measures to be realized due to the incubation period of the virus.

On Monday, the top doctor for Peel Region used his powers under Ontario’s public health legislation to close local schools and move them to remote learning.

Dr. Loh said all schools in Brampton, Caledon and Mississauga would be closed for in-person learning for at least two weeks, starting on Tuesday.

“With increasing case counts and the presence of variants of concern, we need to break chains of transmission and keep our schools safe,” Loh said in a statement. 

A spokesperson from Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the province would continue with its plan to reopen schools with “enhanced measures” following the April break later in the month.

“It is our firm belief that schools should be open for in-class learning, as they are critical to student mental health,” Caitlin Clark said in a statement, adding that “we must remain vigilant and keep our guard up in order to keep schools safe and open.”

The president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said Monday that all schools in hot spot regions should move to online learning due to the rise in COVID-19 cases. 

“As medical experts have said, there is no excuse—no valid reason—to not begin vaccinating all essential workers today; this includes all education workers,” Sam Hammond said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Toronto Mayor John Tory said the city was planning to bring the COVID-19 vaccine to high-risk workplaces. He said the plan would involve mobile vaccination units that are already being used in some hot spot neighbourhoods.

Tory stressed that the plan was contingent on the availability of vaccine supply in the coming weeks and could not immediately say when it would launch.

“We hope to be able to take it to workplaces … where we know there’s a higher risk just given all the circumstances, and to other areas where we know people are more vulnerable,” Tory said.

Ontario’s vaccine rollout began in December and focused initially on immunizing some of the province’s oldest residents in long-term care and health-care workers.

In recent months, it has shifted in a descending order through the oldest age groups in the province, with Toronto now starting to give the shot to people 60 years and older at its six mass vaccination sites.

But increasingly, experts in the health-care sector say essential workers who cannot work from home and often cannot self-isolate if they contract the illness should be prioritized for the shot.

ICU doctors have said many of the patients they’re treating these days are essential workers who got infected in the workplace.

The province said 494 patients were in intensive care because of COVID-19 and 293 on a ventilator – 44 new patients were admitted in ICUs on Sunday.

Ontario reported nearly 6,000 new COVID-19 cases over a two-day span – 2,938 new cases on Monday and 3,041 cases on Sunday – and 22 deaths.

There were 942 people hospitalized with the virus during the same period, though the Ministry of Health noted that 10 per cent of Ontario’s hospitals do not submit data on weekends.

-with files from Denise Paglinawan and Holly McKenzie-Sutter.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 5, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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