COVID-19: Ontario accelerates vaccine timeline; Toronto and Peel to enter grey zone on March 8

A roundup of coronavirus news in Ontario for March 5


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Ontario accelerates COVID-19 vaccination plan

2:10 pm Provincial officials said today that people 60 and over will receive first vaccine does by early June – a month sooner than previously announced.

The Ford government has revised the plan in the wake of federal regulators approving the AstraZenca vaccines. Between April and July, here are the groups that now qualify for shots in phase two:

  • Older adults between 60-79 years of age;
  • Individuals with specific health conditions and some primary caregivers;
  • People who live and work in congregate settings and some primary caregivers;
  • People who live in hot spots with high rates of death, hospitalizations and transmission; and,
  • Certain workers who cannot work from home.

“The light at the end of the tunnel gets brighter, so let’s keep working together to beat this,” Premier Doug Ford told reporters at Queen’s Park.

Retired Gen. Rick Hillier, who is heading up Ontario’s vaccination task force, said he hopes anyone who is eligible and wants the vaccine will get it by the first day of summer.

Ontario plans to immunize people 80 and older by mid-March, but in some areas vaccinations have already started in that group.

Pharmacies will also start to immunize people 60-64 through a soft-launch program in three cities, including Toronto, with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has not been recommended for people 65 and older.

To date, Ontario has given 820,000 doses and more than 269,000 people are fully immunized. More than 95 per cent of long-term care residents are fully immunized.

On March 15, the province will launch an online booking system and a provincial customer service desk to field questions. Some regions are using their own booking systems, but most public health units will transfer to the Ontario system when it launches, officials said.

Today’s plan does not take into account Health Canada’s approval of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.


Toronto and Peel to enter the grey zone on Monday

12:35 pm Toronto and Peel Region will officially move into the grey lockdown zone on March 8 at 12:01 am when the stay-at-home order expires.

The Ford government announced on Friday that both areas are “making progress” but “their case rates still remain high.”

The grey lockdown level of the COVID-19 response framework allows for non-essential retail to reopen with capacity limits, restricts outdoor gatherings to 10 people and allows virtual and drive-in events to resume.

Eviction enforcement, suspended under the stay-at-home order, can also resume.

North Bay Parry Sound will also exit the stay-at-home order but re-enter the colour-coded framework at the red level.

“Our government is taking a safe and cautious approach to returning to the Framework and due to our progress, all regions of the province will soon be out of the provincewide shutdown,” said Health Minister Christine Elliott in a statement.

“Despite this positive step forward, a return to the Framework is not a return to normal. As we continue vaccinating more Ontarians, it remains critical for everyone to continue to follow public health measures and stay home as much as possible to protect themselves, their loved ones and their communities.”

Between February 23 and March 2, Toronto’s COVID-19 rates have decreased by 15.7 per cent to 66.4 cases per 100,000 people and hospitalizations have dropped by 11.2 per cent, the province said.

During this same period of time, Peel’s case rates went up by 6.6 per cent to 91.4 cases per 100,000 people. Patients with COVID-19 in intensive care decreased from 26 to 19 in the same period.

Seven other regions are also changing levels on March 8:

Red-Control

  • Peterborough Public Health;
  • Public Health Sudbury and Districts; and
  • Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit.

Orange-Restrict

  • Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit; and
  • Timiskaming Health Unit.

Yellow-Protect

  • Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit; and
  • Renfrew County and District Health Unit.

Ontario reports 1,250 new cases of COVID-19

11: 30 am Ontario reported 1,250 new cases of COVID-19 on March 5, a jump after multiple days below the 1,000 mark.

There were 994 new cases reported on Thursday, 958 on Wednesday and 966 on Tuesday. The seven-day rolling average is still declining slowly, going from 1,084 on Thursday to 1,083 on Friday.

The province completed 64,748 tests in the past 24 hours, marking a 1.9 per cent positivity rate.

After decreasing active cases for three consecutive days, the case count has jumped from 10,309 to 10,378 today. That includes 643 people currently hospitalized and 280 of those patients in intensive care. There are also 183 patients on ventilators.

An additional 22 deaths have been reported, including two long-term care residents and one person between the ages of 40 and 59.

Long-term care homes in outbreak continue to decrease, with eight less homes today than the day before. That leaves 86 out of 626 homes across the province currently still dealing with an outbreak.

The B117 variant continues to grow in Ontario, increasing by 155 after an increase of 92 the day before. The province now has 799 confirmed cases of the variant.

There have been 306,007 total COVID-19 cases in Ontario, including 288,583 resolved. A total of 7,046 people have died from the virus.


Hakan Nural / Unsplash

Health Canada approves Johnson & Johnson vaccine

10:05 am Health Canada has authorized the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine for use in the country.

Developed by Janssen Pharmaceutica, a Belgium-based division of Johnson & Johnson, the vaccine is the fifth approval. Three other vaccines and one recombinant have been approved in Canada: Pfizer-BionTech, Moderna, Oxford AstraZeneca and its recombinant version from the Serum Institute of India.

“It can be stored and transported at refrigerated temperatures between two and eight degrees Celsius for at least three months, giving greater flexibility in how it can be distributed across Canada,” Dr. Supriya Sharma, the chief medical adviser at Health Canada, said today.

This COVID-19 vaccine can be used in adults 18 and older. Sharma said 20 per cent of participants in clinical trials were 65 and older and no differences in safety or efficacy were observed compared to younger groups.

“It was shown to be 66 per cent effective overall in preventing moderate to severe COVID-19,” she said. “This exceeds efficacy standards issued by Health Canada, the World Health Organization and other major regulators, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.”

While each vaccine has unique characteristics, she said the benefits of all vaccines outweigh potential risks.

“Our advice to Canadians is to get whichever vaccine is available to you,” she said. “The longer you wait to get vaccination the longer the time goes by that you are not protected.”

The United States became the first country to approve the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on February 26.

The delivery timelines for the Johnson & Johnson will be explained at another press briefing later today.


Ford to decide on easing restrictions in Toronto and Peel

10 am Premier Doug Ford will announce whether Toronto and Peel Region will transition back to the reopening framework when the stay-at-home order ends on March 8.

Top doctors in both jurisdictions have asked the province to move into the grey lockdown level of the COVID-19 response framework, which would allow for non-essential retail to reopen with capacity limits and allow eviction enforcement to resume.

Indoor dining, gyms, hair salons and other businesses would remain closed.

Mayor John Tory told CP24 today that he believes the province will approve Toronto’s request to enter the grey zone.

“A lot of people talk about, ‘Well we should be in red so that restaurants can open,’ and I really wish they could but the red zone has a number of about 40 cases per 100,000 of  population [and] we are presently at about 72,” he said. “Peel is at about 100.”

Speaking to reporters at Queen’s Park on Thursday, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams confirmed Toronto, Peel and North Bay Parry Sound would transition back to the framework on Monday but did not state which level each would enter into.

“We have been concerned, as we raised to their attention, [about] their numbers on two things,” he said, explaining that two public health indicators are going in the wrong direction in Toronto and Peel.

He said Toronto’s COVID-19 case numbers per 100,000 (per cent positivity rate) levelled off but is now rising again, and Peel’s per cent positivity rate is even higher than Toronto’s.

The testing positivity rate is also going back up again as well in both regions, he added.

“These are both of our highest population density areas and we’re very worried about them,” he said, adding that fast-spreading variants of concern are steadily increasing at a “worrisome” rate in both areas. “We want to be cautious at this time.”


New COVID-19 cases in Ontario on March 5

The following regions reported five or more new COVID-19 cases:

Toronto = 337

Peel = 167

York Region = 129

City of Hamilton = 74

Thunder Bay District = 71

Ottawa = 63

Durham Region = 55

Halton Region = 47

Region of Waterloo = 47

Simcoe Muskoka District = 35

Middlesex-London = 26

Niagara Region = 26

Lambton = 23

Windsor-Essex County = 23

Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph = 21

Sudbury & Districts = 18

Peterborough = 15

Eastern Ontario = 11

Haldimand-Norfolk = 10

Southwestern = 9

Brant County = 9

Northwestern = 8

Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District = 7

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