January 8, 2021, Premier Doug Ford provided an update on the spread of COVID-19 in Ontario, as well as the province’s vaccination efforts. Premier Ford was joined by Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, and Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe.
In addition to today’s update, Minister Lecce provided additional details on Ontario’s efforts to reopen schools safely, following yesterday’s announcement that online learning will by extended by two weeks in Southern Ontario, until January 25.
Premier Ford and Dr. Yaffe also responded to today’s record-high number of cases and urged Ontarians to continue adhering to public health measures. A modelling update will be released early next week, which Dr. Yaffe suggested may prompt the province to consider implementing stricter measures.
Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation, and Trade, Vic Fedeli, also issued a statement, reacting to today’s monthly employment release by Statistics Canada. According to Statistics Canada, employment in Ontario decreased by 11,900 in December. Despite the overall decrease in employment, manufacturing sector employment increased by 16,400 in the same period.
Update on COVID-19 Response in Ontario
This morning, Premier Ford provided an update on Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout, announcing that the province vaccinated nearly 15,000 people yesterday.
Premier Ford also shared that he spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about “the need for a more reliable vaccine supply” on yesterday’s First Ministers’ call, noting that Ontario is quickly running out of current supply.
Prior to taking questions from media, Premier Ford also urged Ontarians to abide by public health measures, noting that if current measures are ignored, consequences are likely to include an extended shutdown beyond the end of January and the implementation of stricter measures.
Questions from Media
When asked about specific demands made to Prime Minister Trudeau regarding vaccine availability, Premier Ford expressed his hope that new vaccine shipments would be distributed equally amongst the provinces. He also called on Health Canada to quickly approve the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Safety Enhancements in Schools
In response to questions about planned safety enhancements in schools due to rising community transmission of COVID-19, Minister Lecce announced that the targeted asymptomatic testing and surveillance program currently in effect in the highest risk regions will be expanded across the province. Screening protocols for schools will also be enhanced.
In addition, Minister Lecce announced a $380 million investment which will be used for further HVAC and ventilation improvements in schools, personal protective equipment (PPE), and hiring additional staff including custodial staff.
COVID-19 Trends and Modelling
After a new record high number of cases were reported today (4,249, including approximately 450 earlier cases resulting from a data upload delay), Premier Ford and Dr. Yaffe commented on current COVID-19 trends. Currently, hospitals are being forced to cut back on elective surgeries and other procedures, as an increasing number of outbreaks are occurring, and Ontario is experiencing high rates of positivity, even among children.
Premier Ford noted that new COVID-19 modelling will be released early next week, which he expects to act as a “wakeup call” for Ontarians. Dr. Yaffe added that Ontario needs to consider more serious measures, including implementing approaches from other jurisdictions or a return to the more widescale lockdowns of spring 2020.