TORONTO — Ontario’s health minister says the province isn’t currently looking to bring back any COVID-19 measures that were lifted earlier this month, despite rising infections and hospitalizations in the province.
“At this point, it doesn’t appear necessary that we need to take any further precautions,” Christine Elliott said at a hospital funding announcement in Toronto on Thursday.
COVID-19 hospitalizations have been trending upwards, as have daily case counts, and wastewater monitoring suggests cases have been rising throughout the month.
The trends emerged after Ontario lifted indoor masking rules in most spaces along with a majority of other measures aimed at limiting spread, like proof-of-vaccination rules and crowd capacity limits.
Elliott said the rise in cases is not unexpected.
She said the government is following the advice of the province’s top doctor and would change its approach if he recommends it, but she noted that Ontario has a highly vaccinated population now, has increased hospital capacity and has more access to antiviral medications to treat the disease.
“If we need to take any further measure we will, but so far it doesn’t appear that we need to do that,” she said.
Elliott also indicated the province likely won’t mandate masks widely again, despite recent advice from local medical officers in Ottawa and some other Ontario regions that people continue masking indoors in light of the ongoing risk from the virus.
Her comments came after provincial opposition politicians called on the government to explain how it plans to respond to the rising cases.
“It’s pretty much a hands-off approach, and we know that has not served us well in the past,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said of what she characterized as the government approach.
There were 807 patients in hospital with the virus on Thursday, up from 778 a day earlier. The province reported 3,139 new virus cases, an increase of roughly 11 per cent from Wednesday’s 2,814.
Ontario’s top doctor has said the actual number of daily cases is likely 10 times higher than the official tally as access to PCR testing is restricted to people considered most high-risk.
Liberal house leader John Fraser said the government should be sharing information about what’s happening and its plans to get more residents vaccinated.
“I think the government’s trying to pretend like COVID is over and that we don’t need to do the things that we did in the last five waves,” he said.
Green Leader Mike Schreiner echoed those comments, saying Premier Doug Ford should be discussing measures people can take to reduce transmission of the virus.
“The premier is pretending that COVID isn’t here. That’s not going to make it go away,” he said. “We need leadership in the province of Ontario right now to deliver a plan of how we can protect people, protect our health-care system and avoid another lockdown, and the premier is absent without leave.”
The comments came as the Progressive Conservative government’s finance minister announced he had tested positive for the virus. Peter Bethlenfalvy said on Twitter that he took a rapid test after experiencing minor symptoms.
— with files from Noushin Ziafati
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2022.