Ontario limits indoor social gatherings to 10 people

Health officials in Prince Edward Island reported a record number of new COVID-19 cases on Friday and ramped up restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus, The Canadian Press reports.

Chief public health officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, reported 31 new infections on the island, adding that cases of the Omicron variant were on the rise in the province. She introduced a series of new restrictions that would go into effect Saturday, according to CP.

They include: a cap on indoor private gatherings to members of one household plus 10 other people; a limit on visitors to long-term care homes; and a strict requirement for physical distancing at indoor public events, which can only operate at half capacity.

A maximum of 10 people per table will be permitted at restaurants and tables will have to be separated from each other by at least two metres.

Morrison noted that the situation with the variant is evolving and risk assessments of the dangers it poses could change. She said one of her concerns was having too many healthcare workers forced into isolation following COVID-19 exposures, adding that she would consider ways to minimize isolation requirements for health staff.

3:54 p.m. Starting Sunday, Ontario’s indoor social gathering limit will be cut from 25 people to 10, and outdoors from 100 to 25, with 50 per cent indoor capacity limits for all restaurants and bars, which will have to close at 11 p.m., the Star’s Robert Benzie reports.

All food and drink service at sports events, concerts, plays, and cinemas will be prohibited due to the spread of the latest COVID-19 variant. Booze

Premier Doug Ford made the grim yuletide announcement Friday afternoon at Queen’s Park.

“Throughout this entire pandemic, we’ve never faced an enemy like Omicron given how quickly it spreads,” said Ford.

“We need to do everything we can to slow its spread as we continue to dramatically ramp up capacity to get as many booster shots into arms as possible. Doing so is the best way to safeguard our hospital and intensive care units,” he said.

To that end, there will be half capacity limits at all retail outlets, including grocery stores and pharmacies, as well as shopping malls, and personal care services, such as barbershops, hairdressers and nail salons.

Restaurants and bars will be limited to 10 people and will not be able to sell alcohol after 10 p.m.

Patrons will have to remain seated and dancing will not be allowed.

Said Health Minister Christine Elliott: “I am urging every single person to get their vaccine if they haven’t already done so, and sign up for their booster shot as soon as possible.”

The new measures are in addition to both 50-per-cent capacity limits for arenas, stadiums, concert halls and other venues that hold more than 1,000 people, and also to a ramped-up booster campaign announced Wednesday. The latter clears those 18 and older to get third shots starting Monday, providing they are at least 84 days past their second dose.

On Thursday, more than 156,000 doses were administered with capacity increased to 200,000 to 300,000 in the days ahead.

Ford’s additional restrictions follow a Thursday plea from the science table for “circuit-breaker” restrictions to blunt the surge of Omicron by limiting person-to-person contact.

The Omicron strain spreads airborne more easily than previous variants, making it the most contagious variant yet.

Ontario reported 3,124 new daily cases Friday. That’s the highest since early May, and double the level of a week ago and almost triple the 1,053 recorded two weeks ago.

At this rate, the province’s single-day record of 4,812 new infections set April 16 will be topped.

There are concerns that hospital intensive care units will be swamped in January.

For now, hospital admissions for COVID-19 patients and intensive care unit occupany remain well within capacity, although hospitalizations have increased to 358 patients as of Friday from 309 on the same day last week.

There were 157 patients with COVID in intensive care Friday.

The science table hae forecast cases could hit 10,000 daily before the end of the month absent additional measures and warned action needs to be taken quickly because Omicron is doubling every two days.

In the meantime, health experts have called on Ontarians to step up their masking habits by wearing snug-fitting masks with at least two layers that eliminate gaps. Simple, single-layer cloth masks are not recommended.

3:34 p.m. Experts are calling for respirators, such as N95s, to become the new masking standard to curb the spread of the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus, The Canadian Press reports.

Virginia Tech engineering professor Linsey Marr, who studies viruses in the air, says respirators offer far more protection than a surgical mask, both to the wearer and others around them, according to CP.

Marr says the main difference comes down to fit; respirators are designed to form a seal around the face, while medical masks often leave gaps that allow virus particles to seep through.

Marr says she was shocked when she boarded a bus in Lake Louise, B.C., this week and was asked to take off her N95 respirator and put on a surgical mask, comparing the request to substituting a seatbelt with a piece of rope.

A number of Canadian social media users have reported running into similar policies at hospitals and other healthcare settings.

Public Health Ontario updated its guidelines on Wednesday to allow health workers caring for patients who could have COVID-19 to use respirators in settings where surgical masks had previously been the standard.

The interim recommendations also say that N95s are an acceptable alternative to surgical masks for people visiting patient rooms and long-term care homes.

The agency said in an email that evidence published before the emergence of Omicron did not support the use of N95s over surgical masks to protect health workers against COVID-19.

But until more is known about the new variant, “it is prudent to enhance all layers of protection,” the agency said.

University of Toronto infection control epidemiologist Colin Furness said health authorities need to go further to encourage the use of N95 respirators across indoor public settings.

Furness said this campaign should include efforts to help Canadians find the type of respirator that best fits their face, likening the process to trying on jeans.

“That’s public education we desperately need,” he said. “The fact that people are on their own for this is a travesty.”

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Source: teh Star