January 3 saw Premier Ford’s government ring in the New Year with an announcement that saw Ontario return to a “modified” Step Two starting January 5.
This decision comes in light of the surging COVID-19 cases in the province due to the Omicron variant. Ontario is standing at approximately 895,000 cases with roughly 3,200 hospitalizations and 412 ICU cases as of January 11.
During a virtual conference, Premier Ford notes that the province is expecting a “tsunami” of cases in the coming weeks and tells citizens to “brace for impact.” This “tsunami is expected to result in 20 to 30 per cent absenteeism for employees in all sectors across Ontario in the coming weeks”, according to Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore via CBC News.
The announcement has resulted in a vast amount of negative reaction from Ontario citizens, particularly those in the healthcare and education sectors. Political leaders have voiced their displeasure as well, including Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Andrea Horwath and Guelph Green Party MPP Mike Schreiner.
Both Schreiner and Horwath believe that Premier Ford is not willing to spend the money in order to compensate workers who are in need of financial support. Horwath asserts that “now is exactly when people need their government to support them; through the toughest times that we’ve seen in a generation” and believes that Ford “lacks the willingness to make the necessary investments into the solutions and lifelines that those businesses needed.”
“Watching as entrepreneurs, multi-generational businesses and small businesses who have had to walk away from their dreams or go into massive debt are huge, unnecessary losses that didn’t have to happen,” adds Horwath during a Zoom conference from January 7.
With the announcement of the modified Step Two restrictions, indoor dining, cinemas, gyms, saunas, museums, and other luxuries and attractions must close. Retail, personal care services, weddings, religious services, and funerals all must decrease to 50 per cent capacity. Social gathering limits have been reduced to five people indoors and 10 people outdoors.
During the Green Party conference, Schreiner pointed out three critical areas where Premier Ford could be doing more for Ontarians. The first being to repeal Bill 124. The nursing sector in Canada has seen an alarming decline in recent times with Ontario having the lowest nurse-per-capita ratio in Canada. There are 665 registered nurses for every 100,000 people in 2020, as reported by Global News.
Schreiner’s second point is for Premier Ford to address schools and childcare. “We need to get our school’s open; to improve our children’s learning abilities and the mental health crisis that so many young people are facing. We need to prioritize our teachers, educational staff, and students. With COVID-19 being airborne, we need to address ventilation issues and put the necessary safety measures in place with N95 masks.” Ontario schools are expected to continue with remote learning until January 17.
Schreiner’s final issue was directed towards “long and short term support for small businesses” and “particularly those that have borne the disproportion of burden like restaurants and gyms.”
With cases and hospitalizations disproportionately rising, Premier Ford’s modified Step Two restrictions are expected to remain in place until January 26.