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Tam urges collective effort as Ontarians told to celebrate holidays at home


By Morgan Lowrie

The country’s chief public health officer urged Canadians Wednesday to avoid non-essential outings, as cases continued to rise across the country and as Ontario became the latest province to announce scaled-back holiday plans.

Dr. Theresa Tam warned that the number of people experiencing severe cases of COVID-19 is continuing to rise, putting a strain on health-care services and forcing hospitals to cancel surgeries. She said it’s safest to limit errands and outings to essentials and to avoid socializing with people beyond one’s household.

Recent record-breaking numbers have prompted many provinces to implement new restrictions and partial lockdowns. Tam said that while it’s too early to measure their impact, public participation will be vital to their success.

“This is why as public health authorities implement measures to interrupt spread, Canadians are being called upon,” she said in a statement.

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“It is safest for all of us to limit errands and outings to just the essentials, limit in-person activities to just our existing household members and keep up with key prevention practices,” she said, referring to handwashing, physical distancing and mask-wearing.

Christmas restrictions in place

Ontarians on Wednesday were asked to restrict Christmas gatherings to members of their households, as the province became the latest to unveil Christmas guidelines.

Premier Doug Ford said Ontarians should celebrate with people they live with, unless they live alone, in which case, he said, they can join one other family. “This year isn’t like any other,” he said. “We’re in the second wave of COVID-19 and we can’t take any chances.”

Ford’s approach is similar to that taken by Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, who told his province on Tuesday to plan for a Christmas without group gatherings.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault, however, has taken a different approach, allowing people to gather in groups up to 10, between Dec. 24 and 27 — as long as they quarantine a week before and after. He said Tuesday that people should only gather up to two times over the four-day grace period.

Quebec reported 1,100 new infections Wednesday and 28 COVID-related deaths, while Ontario recorded 1,373 new cases and 35 more deaths.

Earlier Wednesday, Ontario’s auditor general released a report criticizing the province’s response to COVID-19, describing it as slower and more reactive than that of other provinces.

Bonnie Lysyk cited problems such as confused decision making, outdated provincial emergency plans and a cumbersome command structure.

Ford took issue with some of the claims in the report, particularly the finding that the province’s chief medical officer of health did not play a leading role in the government’s response.

The premier said Dr. David Williams had guided Ontario’s response “from Day 1,” and insisted the province had based all its decisions on advice from its health team.