By Moira Warburton
TORONTO (Reuters) -Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, on Monday announced a partial shutdown of some businesses starting Dec. 26 and banned most indoor gatherings as it struggles to control a second wave of COVID-19.
Essential retailers, such as those selling food, will have to impose capacity limits while many other stores will only be allowed curbside pick-ups. Indoor dining is to be banned.
“Thousands of lives are at stake,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford told reporters. “If we fail to take action right now the consequences will be catastrophic.”
The measures appear to fall short of the immediate four-to-six-week “hard lockdown” that Ontario’s own expert medical panel had called for earlier on Monday.
The partial shutdown will apply to the entire province until Jan. 9 and then to major cities and surrounding regions until Jan. 23. The province announced 2,123 new cases on Monday, the seventh consecutive day the number has exceeded 2,000.
Ontario though is not clamping down on many industries blamed for outbreaks in the suburban regions around Toronto, like manufacturing, food production and warehouse facilities.
Ontario and the neighboring province of Quebec together account for 84% of Canada’s 14,228 deaths from the coronavirus so far.
The Ontario Hospital Association last week said the healthcare system could hit a breaking point unless people started listening to calls to restrict gatherings.
Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory team, said earlier in the day that “our ability to control case growth is still precarious.”
Around 300 people are in intensive care units, but this could jump to 1,500 in mid-January, he told reporters, making clear Ontario needed to impose a lockdown as soon as possible.
Ford, asked why he was not moving more quickly, cited the large amount of inventory that businesses had built up before the Christmas holiday.
(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto and Julie Gordon and David Ljunggren in Ottawa;Writing by David LjunggrenEditing by Mark Heinrich and Steve Orlofsky)