Photo Credit: Elena Mozhvilo via Unsplash

 

Following an announcement from the federal government detailing new international travel restrictions, the Ontario government has implemented a six-point plan to stop the spread of new COVID-19 variants in the province.

 

“We welcome the new measures announced by the federal government today, but we need a stop gap to prevent new cases, including variant cases, from arriving in Ontario until those measures are fully in place,” said Premier of Ontario Doug Ford. “That’s why our government is taking immediate and decisive action, which includes mandatory testing of incoming international travellers and providing additional layers of protection for the people of Ontario, especially our seniors. Through our six-point plan, we intend to stop this virus in its tracks.”

 

Last month Ontario confirmed its first case of the UK COVID-19 variant which came as a result of international travel. Recent Science Table modeling suggests that the UK variant and other new variants remain a significant threat to controlling the pandemic and could become the dominant strain of the virus in the province by March 2021, posing an increased threat to public health and hospital capacity.

 

“People across the province are staying home and helping to limit the spread of this deadly virus and their actions are starting to make a difference,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “However, the UK variant is now making its way into our communities and putting Ontario’s pandemic response at risk.”

 

Ontario’s six-point variant action plan includes:

 

  • Mandatory testing of travelers: Effective as of February 1, there is now mandatory on-arrival testing for international travellers at Toronto Pearson International Airport, the only airport in the province accepting international flights. Additionally, the government is exploring additional testing measures at the airport and land border crossings in the coming weeks.

 

  • Enhanced screening and sequencing: The provincial diagnostic lab network is increasing their capacity to screen all positive COVID-19 tests in Ontario for known variants within 48 to 72 hours after initial processing. This new measure will take effect on February 3.

 

  • Maintain public health measures: Public Health Ontario has indicated that the lifting of public health and workplace safety measures will not be considered until more information on variant spread is known and overall trends in public health indicators improve. Additionally, the provincial emergency and stay-at-home order remains in effect until February 9.  

 

  • Strengthen case and contact management: The provincial workforce will continue supporting public health units to ensure cases and contacts are reached as soon as possible and monitored through their quarantine period. All asymptomatic contacts will be asked to repeat testing on or after day 10 of their quarantine and the entire household of all contacts and symptomatic individuals will be asked to stay home until the contact has a negative test.

 

  • Enhancing protections for vulnerable populations: The province will continue with the accelerated vaccination of residents in long-term care, high-risk retirement and First Nations elder care homes. The province is also introducing a provincial antigen screening program for the expansion of rapid testing in high priority settings, such as long-term care homes.

 

  • Leveraging Data: DNAstack, a Toronto-based technology company, is now working alongside the provincial government to establish a genomics database and real-time analytics dashboard to better inform public health officials and improve government planning as it relates to the pandemic response.

 

On top of this new action plan, the province continues to call on the federal government to impose a temporary travel ban on flights coming from countries where new COVID-19 variants are being detected.

 

As of last week, the number of UK variant COVID-19 cases in the province is posted daily on the Ontario COVID-19 website, with a breakdown of how many cases have occurred per public health unit included in the provincial epidemiologic summary. 

 

All Ontario residents are asked to continue to follow the current stay-at-home order, public health advice and implemented measures put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19.

 

Individuals who desire to keep up with the latest information as it relates to the COVID-19 virus in Ontario are encouraged to visit: https://covid-19.ontario.ca.