The province is extending its stay-at-home order two weeks and restricting outdoor gatherings as COVID-19 cases rise.

The Ontario Government announced new measures to curb the spread April 16. These include limiting outdoor gatherings to members of your household only, closing all outdoor recreational amenities such as golf courses, and giving law enforcement new powers to stop and question people outside their residence to enforce the order. The new rules will go into effect April 17.

“As the latest modelling confirms, without taking immediate and decisive action COVID-19 cases will spiral out of control and our hospitals will be overwhelmed,” Premier Doug Ford said.

Other new restrictions include reducing capacity to 25 per cent for all retail settings where in-store shopping is permitted, including grocery stores. All non-essential workplaces in the construction sector will also be closed. Wedding, funerals and religious services will be limited to a capacity of 10 people indoors or outdoors. People who live alone can gather with one other household.

The move comes as COVID-19 rates continue to rise across the province, with hospitalizations and ICU occupancy at the highest rates since the pandemic began.

Cases are also increasing locally. The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge (HKPR) District Health Unit has 171 active cases as of Feb. 16, nine in Haliburton. Northumberland has 117 and Kawartha Lakes has 45.

The health unit sounded its own alarm April 16. Medical officer of health Dr. Natalie Bocking said a recent case spike has stretched district capacity to its limits. She said vaccinations are vital to addressing the pandemic but with expanded eligibility and no additional vaccine to provide locally, they are challenged to offer more clinics. The district is receiving less Pfizer vaccine than expected, down to 3,500 a week from 5,800.

“We are doing a bit of a dance right now as we continue to work through new cases while also rolling out our vaccination clinics,” Bocking said. “In the long run, the vaccinations will play a major role in changing the trajectory of the pandemic.”

The health unit announced they will email high-risk contacts with quarantine and testing requirements. It also said its call centre is facing hundreds of messages and will only address urgent ones. It will not respond to people checking on their vaccine eligibility.

 “In more than half of our latest cases, there is no one point of exposure so that tells us we are clearly seeing the virus circulating in our communities,” Bocking said. “We need to stay vigilant, follow the directions and do our part to stop any further spread.”

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