National Post (National Edition)

We need every resident's help to stop the spread

- CHRISTINE ELLIOTT Christine Elliott is Ontario's deputy premier and minister of health.

COVID-19 cases in Ontario continue to rise across the province at an alarming rate. In fact, public health modelling shows our province could see as many as 30,000 cases each and every day in a worst-case scenario. This isn't a risk our government is willing to accept. The health and safety of individual­s, families and workers is too important, as are the tragic, economic and other consequenc­es that would accompany those numbers.

That's why, on the advice of the chief medical officer of health and other health experts, Ontario acted and implemente­d a provincewi­de shutdown beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 26.

This decision was not taken lightly.

This year has proven challengin­g in ways we never imagined. The pandemic has impacted every Ontarian personally. People have made tremendous sacrifices and, understand­ably, miss their family and friends, especially as we approach the holidays. However, current trends show more needs to be done. COVID-positive patients in hospitals increased 74 per cent over the past four weeks, with an 80-per-cent increase in those requiring intensive care. This put the scheduling of surgeries at risk for our cancer patients, those requiring knee replacemen­ts and many others.

The alarming situation in our hospitals reflects the spread of COVID-19 in our communitie­s.

Recent cellphone data also shows people continue to travel from region to region across the province, increasing the risk of COVID-19 spreading from areas of high rates of transmissi­on to lower transmissi­on areas. The chief medical officer of health has been clear provincewi­de action is needed to break these trends.

In short, we need to halt the virus in its tracks. That is why our government has put in place urgent, time-limited measures to slow the transmissi­on of COVID-19 in our province, to keep people at home and prevent our hospitals from becoming overwhelme­d in the coming weeks.

Ottawa has done a remarkable job controllin­g the spread in recent weeks. But we need Ottawa's help to ensure the city remains safe and remains part of the provincial effort to contain this deadly virus. COVID-19 doesn't respect borders and will continue to spread unless we are all vigilant.

Even with Ottawa's recent success, the latest data shows the region's acute and intensive-care hospital occupancy rates remain at concerning levels. We know how quickly cases of COVID-19 can surge, especially during this time of year when more people are travelling from region to region to celebrate the holidays. Further, with Quebec shutting down at the same time as Ontario, there is tremendous risk people would travel across the border if the Ottawa area were to remain open. And with reports of a new strain of COVID-19 discovered in the U.K. that may be 70 per cent more contagious, now is not the time to let our guard down.

These measures will not last forever. Premier Ford has indicated the chief medical officer of health will keep a close eye on the data throughout the 28-day period for southern Ontario and recommend adjustment­s as necessary.

Our government has also asked our public health experts to review the latest evidence to consider how a revised approach for the safe reopening of retail may be operationa­lized when the shutdown ends. We recognize the impact the shutdown has on Ontario's businesses and families. All of us know a small-business owner struggling due to COVID-19, and the impact that has on their staff and their families. We also know additional support is required. That is why our government is providing a new Ontario Small Business Support Grant, which will provide a minimum of $10,000 and up to $20,000 to eligible small business owners to help them get through this challengin­g period. During this shutdown, our government is also reducing the cost of hydro for families and small businesses, including farms.

Additional­ly, we are providing new financial support for families in the COVID-19 era by expanding the Support for Learners program to include secondary students. The expanded program, which will be launched in the New Year, will see parents of elementary and secondary school students receive a one-time payment to help with education expenses.

With the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine, the light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter every day.

But until we receive enough doses for widespread immunizati­on, everyone has a role to play in saving lives.

In the face of unpreceden­ted circumstan­ces, Ontarians pulled together and met the challenge to flatten the curve this past spring. Based on the determinat­ion and effort I have seen to date, I know we can do it again and soon be on our way to economic recovery and an end to the pandemic.

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