It’s been nearly two weeks since a new spate of restrictions were introduced in Ontario after we thought we’d done away with lockdown for good, and as the Omicron variant in particular continues to make its way around the province, residents are cancelling their travel and event plans and bracing for more bad news.
Health experts and others are indeed now calling for further measures beyond the current 50 per cent capacity limits in all public indoor spaces, 10 p.m. last call and 11 p.m. closing time for bars and restaurants, and reduction of gathering limits to 10 inside and 25 outside.
Parents awaiting news on the potential closure of schools and families now unable to visit loved ones in long-term care homes have been wondering why events like sports games with 10,000 spectators are still allowed to take place, and now, members of the province’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table is advocating for more cuts.
“The problem is, I don’t see public health measures in place that would need to come before we use schools,” the table’s scientific director, Dr. Peter Juni, said during a University of Toronto Family & Community Medicine panel on Wednesday.
“It’s the comfortable thing to do for some people, to close them, but we still [have] 50 per cent capacity limits in our province, so schools would not be next.”
He later added while speaking with the Star that “proper” caps of 25 per cent in settings like retail stores, bars and restaurants, as well as a “dramatic” decrease of limits in sports and concert arenas would be his first course of action before any changes are made to in-person learning.
“Right now where we are, with the measures we have in place, schools are not the next lever to control the pandemic. This is very clear,” he said.
“There will be a large number of children who will be infected — that’s just part of this Omicron wave. We can’t change that. Most of that will be community transmission, and household. We can’t tell how much schools will contribute.”
Hundreds of Ontario doctors have this week penned a letter to Premier Doug Ford and his team likewise imploring them to keep schools open, and noting that spread within schools has been low thus far, while children are less at risk of contracting the virus than adults.
“We need to re-write the popular phrase ‘schools should be the last to close and the first to open’ and replace it with ‘schools are an essential service and must remain open,'” the letter ends.
An announcement about further restrictions is expected from Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, during a press conference on Thursday afternoon.