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Ontario premier to make announcement after cabinet mulls stricter public health measures

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is scheduled to make an announcement Monday, one day after his cabinet met to consider imposing additional public health measures in response to an unprecedented increase of COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

You’ll be able to watch the 11 a.m. ET news conference in this story. Ford’s office says he will be joined by Health Minister Christine Elliott and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore. The CEO of Ontario Health, which oversees the province’s health system, is also scheduled to be in attendance.

Sources told CBC News on Sunday that ministers discussed re-implementing stricter measures for indoor dining, gyms and retail.

The sources said cabinet also talked about the timing of the return to school, though they were not able to say whether a decision had been made.

The meeting comes as the province sees record numbers of COVID-19 cases linked to the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant. The province recorded 16,714 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, one day after logging a pandemic-high 18,445 cases.

Public Health Ontario warned on Saturday that the daily case record was “an underestimate” given changes to testing eligibility and Omicron’s quick spread.

Early research suggests Omicron may cause milder illnesses than earlier versions of the coronavirus. Still, experts have warned that the sheer number of people becoming infected — and therefore having to isolate or quarantine — could overwhelm hospitals and threaten the ability of businesses to stay open.

Omicron cases surge

Ontario discovered its first case of the Omicron variant on Nov. 28, just days after South African researchers alerted the world to its existence. Around three weeks later, Omicron became the dominant variant, making up the majority of new daily infections in the province.

On Dec. 16, Ontario’s COVID-19 science table called for “circuit breaker” restrictions to combat the rapid spread of Omicron and avoid ICU admissions reaching “unsustainable levels” by early January.

In response, Ontario reintroduced capacity limits at restaurants, bars and retailers on Dec. 19, capping most at 50 per cent. It also mandated they close at 11 p.m., imposed limits on the sale of alcohol and limited private indoor gatherings to 10 people.

Those restrictions weren’t enough to blunt the spread of Omicron, and Ontario set successive record-high case counts in late December.

Last week, alongside changes to testing and isolation guidelines, Moore announced a two-delay of the start of school to give the government time to provide N95 masks to staff in schools and licensed child-care settings, and to deploy an additional 3,000 stand-alone HEPA filter units to school boards.

Some limits were also placed on sports and extracurricular activities, and capacity restrictions on large venues were also imposed.

But some experts warned even those measures weren’t strong enough to curb “out of control” transmission of the virus.

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