COVID-19: UK variant to become dominant in Ontario by March; De Villa recommends extending Toronto’s COVID rules to June

A roundup of coronavirus news in Toronto and Ontario for January 28.


Top COVID-19 stories and news

Scientists hit social media to combat COVID conspiracy theories

Casino mogul fined for getting COVID vaccine ahead of Indigenous people

Paid sick leave is essential to stopping the pandemic

The updated list of Ontario lockdown restrictions

The full list of rules for Ontario’s stay-at-home order


UK variant to become dominant in Ontario by March

5:40 pm The highly transmissible UK coronavirus variant will become the dominant strain of the virus in Ontario by March, public health officials today.

Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory, presented updated modelling data today that showed an overall decline in new COVID-19 cases across all age groups and virtually all public health regions.

Lockdown restrictions are working, he said, noting that mobility data glean from cellphones shows more people are staying home since the stay-at-home order took effect on January 14.

However, mobility has not dropped down to pre-December holiday levels.

“I know that this reflects sacrifices and many hard choices about seeing friends, about seeing loved ones, about where you work,” he said. “But we’re nowhere in the clear yet.”

Brown said that hospitalizations are dropping, though intensive care units continue to have capacity issues. New infections have been dropping in long-term care homes since the peak on January 14, but deaths will continue to rise in the weeks ahead. There have been 215 long-term care resident deaths in the past seven days.

He noted that daily testing numbers have also been in decline recently and essential workplaces, such as factories, continue to be sources of new outbreaks.

And although the UK variant, which studies have shown spreads more quickly and can lead to more severe illness in some cases, is “clearly spreading in the community,” schools could still reopen if spread continues waning.

The province has confirmed 50 cases of the UK strain, known as B117, including 14 in Toronto. Hundreds more variant cases connected with two long-term care homes in Simcoe County are expected to be confirmed soon.


Ontario nurses are at a breaking point: survey

3:10 pm A new report by the Registered Practical Nurses Associations of Ontario on the well-being of nurses working during the pandemic found RPNs are facing a critical breaking point, mental health tolls and financial stresses because of their job since COVID-19 hit. 

Eighty-three per cent of the almost 800 RPNs surveyed reported that their mental health had been adversely affected by their work, while 67 per cent said they don’t have enough mental health support to face the “second wave” of COVID-19. 

Fifty-seven per cent of nurses said they’re experiencing financial stress due to the pandemic, and 83 per cent reported spending less time with loved ones out of fear of exposing their family to the virus. 

The majority of the nurses surveyed also reported reaching a “breaking point,” and 71 per cent said they’ve reached one either at home or at work during the pandemic.

A third of RPNs surveyed are considering leaving the profession, most citing wages, workload and the impact of the pandemic on their well-being as their reasons. The report calls on the Ontario government to create more full-time positions for nurses, ensure RPNs are fairly compensated and provide more mental health support for nurses now and beyond the pandemic. The report also emphasizes the importance of a swift vaccine rollout plan to ensure all healthcare workers, especially those in high-risk settings, are protected. 

Ontarians were surveyed about their thoughts on nurses and their work throughout the pandemic as well. One third of those surveyed said the province needs to hire more nurses immediately, and 78 per cent of those surveyed said nurses should receive “pandemic pay” for their work during the pandemic. Sixty-five per cent said that pay raise should be made permanent once the pandemic is over.


City opens second modular supportive housing building

1:20 pm Toronto has opened a second modular supportive housing building for people experiencing homelessness. Located at 321 Dovercourt, the three-storey building has 44 studio units, a common room, a dining room, program space, administrative offices and a commercial kitchen.

Each unit is approximately 300 square feet and comes with a built-in kitchen (including a stove top), microwave and fridge. Other furniture includes a twin bed, a lounge chair, a dining table and chairs and a dresser. Twenty-five per cent of the units are accessible.

Toronto previously opened another modular housing project at 11 Macey in Scarborough, bringing the total number of modular units built during the pandemic to 100.

Plans are in the works to build another 150 modular units this year. The total cost of the project is $47.5 million. The city and the federal government are sharing the costs.


De Villa recommends extending COVID rules until June

1 pm A report by Toronto’s top doctor recommends extending five COVID-related bylaws until the end of city council’s June 8-9 meeting.

The rules included mandatory masks in indoor spaces – including condo and apartment common spaces – and physical distancing in public spaces, which are set to expire at council’s next meeting on February 2-3.

In the interim, Medical Officer of Health Eileen de Villa would continue to assess the ongoing need for each bylaw.

“Based on this assessment, the Medical Officer of Health may report to City Council to recommend ending, extending or amending the bylaws before the expiry date,” the report states.

The report goes on to note that lockdown measures have not yet resulted in weekly COVID-19 case rates in Toronto.

“The seven-day moving average for daily new COVID-19 cases sits currently at more than 700 and the most recent figure for percent positivity for COVID-19 tests is 8.6 per cent,” the report notes. “These data show that COVID-19 continues to spread in Toronto.”


Ontario surpasses 6,000 COVID-19 deaths

11 am Ontario reported 2,093 new cases of COVID-19 and 56 deaths on January 28.

The new deaths pushed the provincial death toll past the 6,000 mark.

Today’s count comes after three consecutive days of new infections below 2,000. The province saw 1,670 cases on Wednesday, 1,740 on Tuesday and 1,958 on Monday.

However, key public health indicators appear to be showing declines.

The seven-day rolling average in the province is down to 2,128.

Ontario completed 64,664 tests in the past 24 hours, marking a 3.2 per cent positivity rate.

Active cases in the province dropped by almost 500 to 21,478 as of January 28, and hospitalizations have dropped as well to 1,338. Patients in intensive care are down to 358 from 377 the day before, including 276 patients on ventilators.

Long-term care residents accounted for 31 of the deaths reported today, along with two people between the ages of 40 and 59. There have been 400 deaths in the past week.

The province has administered 317,240 total doses of the vaccine, including 11,910 administered in the past day. To date, 55,286 people in the province have been fully vaccinated.

To date, there have been 262,463 total COVID-19 cases in Ontario, including 234,971 resolved – up 2,491 from the day before. There have been 6,014 deaths.


Air Transat cancels all flights out of Toronto this winter

10 am Starting today, Air Transat is cancelling all flights out of Toronto through April 30. In a memo to travel agents obtained by the Canadian Press (via Global News), the airline said it has experienced a drop in bookings due to the federal government’s new border restrictions – namely proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

Anyone already at their destinations will be rebooked on a new flight home. Travellers who paid with cash or credit for trips between now and April 30 will receive a refund.


City set to expand CaféTO patio program this spring

10 am Mayor John Tory has promised to make last summer’s outdoor dining program CaféTO bigger and better this year – and now the city’s executive committee approved the plan to do so.

The committee voted in favour a report that will now go to council for the final stamp of approval at the next meeting on February 2-3.

CaféTO  helped restaurants and bars stay afloat throughout the pandemic by making it easier for operators to open patios in curb lanes and on sidewalks.

If approved by council, the first curb-lane patios could be installed as early as May. Other enhancements to the program include:

  • Updating the registration process so that it is even more clear and straightforward; registrations would start as early as February.
  • Developing comprehensive and safe traffic management plans – to help make sure the curb lane cafés are as safe as possible for people dining, employees and people using the road.
  • Supporting quick CaféTO installations to help approved businesses as soon as possible once winter is over.
  • Allowing owners/operators to build decks and platforms for curb lane café areas, where applicable.
  • Ensuring there is accessible furniture for public parklet areas.

Samuel Engelking


Toronto bans non-residents from using skating rinks

10 am Toronto is popular destination for skating in the GTA. So much so that the city is restricting use of skating rinks to locals only, the Toronto Star reports. The parks, forestry and recreation division has been receiving complaints that non-residents are booking up coveted spots on Toronto’s 54 outdoor rinks.

Officials said of the 735,000 online reservations booked since November, 2.5 per cent – or about 18,000 – are not from Toronto. The locals-only rule takes effect on February 3 and skaters must provide a recreational activity number to make a booking.


Ontario extends off-peak hydro rate cap for 12 days

10 am The province has extended a hydro rate cap for another 12 days. Premier Doug Ford imposed the temporary measure, which took effect on January 1, in response to surging COVID-19 cases.

The Ontario government will fix hydro rates at off-peak rates 8.5 cents per kilowatt-hour until February 9. The rate applies to residents, businesses and farms and is available 24/7. It will be automatically applied to bills.


New COVID-19 cases in Ontario on January 28

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

Toronto = 700

Peel = 331

York Region = 228

Niagara Region = 123

City of Hamilton = 94

Durham Region = 85

Windsor-Essex County = 67

Halton Region = 64

Region of Waterloo = 56

Simcoe Muskoka District = 53

Ottawa = 45

Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph = 43

Middlesex-London = 37

Eastern Ontario = 30

Chatham-Kent = 25

Huron Perth = 18

Southwestern = 16

Lambton = 15

Thunder Bay District = 14

Sudbury & Districts = 8

Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District = 7

Brant County = 6

Peterborough = 6

Porcupine = 5

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