Ontario premier Doug Ford is again calling on the federal government to close the borders to all non-essential travel as COVID-19 variants of concern continue to spike across the province.
Of the 4,094 new cases reported on Saturday, over 70 per cent – or 3,014 infections – are VOCs, the majority being the variant first discovered in the UK.
But there is a new mutated strain that is threatening to make headway in the province. Provincial health officials confirmed Friday 36 cases of the double mutant COVID-19 variant first discovered in India, B.1.617, have now been detected in Ontario. Six of the cases detected through Public Health Ontario’s genomics surveillance program were all linked to international travel while the other 30 were detected through the province’s COVID-19 airport and land border screening program.
On Thursday, Canada suspended incoming passenger flights from India and Pakistan for the next 30 days due to surging cases of COVID-19 in both countries.
With ICU capacity stretched to the limits, Ford says tougher action is needed at border entry points.
“We need more action on our borders right now. The federal government must close all non-essential travel to Canada immediately,” Ford said in a statement. “The new border measures announced at the end of this week came far too late and don’t do nearly enough to protect Canadians. Without further action we risk prolonging the third wave, or creating the conditions for a fourth one.”
Closing borders is not among the province’s science advisory table’s top recommendations when it comes to containing the spread of the virus. They have previously called for the closure of non-essential businesses and the implementation of paid sick days, something Ford has resisted since the pandemic began. On Thursday the premier said his government was working on a paid sick day program, but gave no concrete details or a timeline of when it might be implemented.
The advisory table is also calling for a shift in the province’s vaccination strategy where half of Ontario’s shots are allocated to 74 neighbourhoods with the highest COVID-19 incidence levels.
The group of scientific experts and health system leaders says focusing on hot spot neighbourhoods where COVID-19 infection rates are highest and residents are less likely to be able to work from home would reduce hospitalizations by 14 per cent and deaths by 11 per cent.
Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report