Ontario has announced sweeping new police powers to enforce an extended stay-at-home order, in the latest sign that officials in Canada’s most populous province have lost control of the rapidly spreading coronavirus.
With a record number of new cases, there is growing worry among experts that the already-strained healthcare system is being further pushed to the brink.
“We’re losing the battle between the variants and vaccines,’’ Ontario’s premier, Doug Ford, said on Friday as he announced the new measures. “We’re on our heels. If we dig in, remain steadfast, we can turn this around.”
Police in Ontario will now have the power to stop drivers or pedestrians and ask for their address and reason for being out. Residents could face fines of up to $C750 (US$600) for refusing to comply. Checkpoints will be established on provincial borders with Manitoba and Quebec to stop non-essential travel – but not on the frontier with the US.
The measures prompted an immediate and furious backlash.
“Blanket powers for police to stop vehicles like this bends our constitutional freedoms too far, and will cause a rash of racial profiling,” Michael Bryant of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said in a statement.
Ford also announced restrictions on playgrounds, camping and outdoor sports.
And although most of the current cases involve frontline and essential workers, the premier made no mention of sick pay – a policy health experts say would help slow the spread of the virus.
The restrictions came as new modeling forecast more than 15,000 new cases a day in Ontario by June if current growth continues – even with vaccinations. If measures are weakened prematurely, the province could see more than 30,000 a day. Ontario announced a record 4,812 new cases on Friday.
The new modeling also projects that as many as 1,800 residents could be in the intensive care unit by the end of May.
“[Our hospitals] are bursting at the seams, we are setting up field hospitals,” Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the province’s science table, told reporters. “Our children’s hospitals are admitting adults. This has never happened in Ontario before. It’s never happened in Canada before.”
Ontario estimates it will need more than 4,000 additional nurses in the coming months and has asked all provinces and territories for 620 nurses – especially those with intensive care experience – as soon as possible.
Brown said that while growth over the next two weeks is effectively “baked in”, strong measures, including extending the stay-at-home order, and a ramp-up of vaccinations could help limit how much worse the third wave becomes.