Canada’s most populous province announced a province-wide shutdown on Monday in a bid to stop the spread of a second wave of COVID-19.
The lockdown will be put in place for southern Ontario from December 26 until January 23, but will lift for northern Ontario on January 9.
Health officials criticised the delay, with one top infectious disease doctor saying it was ridiculous to wait until the day after Christmas to shut down.
Ontario has had seven straight days of more than 2,000 cases a day. Modeling shows that could more than double in January. Health officials earlier said a four to six-week hard lockdown could significantly stop the spread of COVID-19.
Toronto, Canada’s largest city, had already closed restaurants for indoor dining but schools remained open. All high schools in Ontario will now be closed for in-person learning until January 25. Elementary schools will be closed until January 11.
After COVID-19 cases surged in the spring, Canada flattened the epidemic curve with a lockdown. But as in other countries, COVID fatigue set in, restrictions were relaxed and a second wave was unleashed.
"We have flattened the curve before and we can do it again," Health Minister Christine Elliott said.
Dr Barbara Yaffe, Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health, said Ontario is in a very challenging and precarious situation.
"There are outbreaks anywhere people congregate," Yaffe said.
Ontario premier Doug Ford said the delay until December 26 will allow businesses outside the current lockdown zones to get ready for it. He said it allows restaurants a chance to sell off some of their inventory.
"I'm not comprising anything," Ford said. "I have to be fair to these businesses who have massive inventory".
Dr Andrew Morris, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Toronto and the medical director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Sinai-University Health Network, said Ford is prioritising the economy over health by delaying.
"Ridiculous. Costing lives. For what?!" Morris said.
The Ontario Hospital Association said in a statement that it was "surprised and disappointed" the lockdown won't happen for another five days
"People across this province need clear public health communication, and the December 26th implementation date sends a confusing message about what they should and shouldn't do at this crucial moment. We are already hearing from hospital and health system leaders who are shocked that the restrictions will not come into effect until after Christmas," the association's president, Anthony Dale, said in the statement.
Dr Naveed Mohammad, CEO of the William Osler Health System that operates hospitals in a Toronto suburb, said people need to act as if the lockdown had already started.
"Until the people of this province realise what each trip out their home risks for themselves and their loved ones, we won’t get through this," he said, noting that hospitals in Brampton, Ontario, are grappling with capacity. "Please stay home, starting today".