By Mike Baker
Last-minute Christmas shopping and family gatherings will look a little different in the Highlands over the coming days and weeks after the Ontario government implemented a new set of restrictions designed to flatten the spread of COVID-19 as the super-spreader Omicron variant runs rampant across the province.
Premier Doug Ford said the rapid increase in daily cases, up to 3,783 on Monday, is “unlike anything we have ever seen.” As such, he introduced a list of health measures that came into effect Dec. 19.
Social gatherings are being limited to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors; 50 per cent capacity limits have been imposed on most indoor businesses; a maximum of 10 people may be seated together at restaurants or bars; bars and restaurants will be required to close by 11 p.m.; singing and dancing in restaurants and bars and other select settings has been prohibited; and the sale of food and drink services at indoor sporting events, concert venues, theatres and cinemas, casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments has been temporarily outlawed.
Businesses having to abide by the capacity limits include restaurants and bars; personal care services; gyms and fitness facilities; retailers; shopping malls; photography studios; marinas and boating clubs; clubhouses at outdoor recreational amenities; concert venues; theatres and cinemas; meeting and event spaces; museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos, science centres, landmarks, historic sites, botanical gardens and similar attractions; casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments; and fairs, rural exhibitions and festivals.
HKPR medical officer of health Dr. Natalie Bocking “strongly encourages” Haliburton County residents to reconsider large holiday gatherings last week, as the health unit detected its first case of the Omicron variant in the region.
As of Dec. 20, there were 56 active cases of COVID-19 in the HKPR region, although none of those are in Haliburton County.
“We are seeing a steady increase now associated with both a higher number of outbreaks, as well as a higher number of total cases,” Bocking said. “As we look at the next couple of weeks, we are highly encouraging everyone to be cautious in their interactions.”
She recommended that people engage in small gatherings over the holidays, limited to two households.
While the Omicron variant is still being tested, it’s found to be more transmissible than the Delta variant, and is predicted to be the dominant COVID-19 strain in the coming weeks. Booster shots are more important than ever in defending vulnerable populations from the virus, Bocking said.
Over the past week, the health unit has added 4,000 additional appoints at vaccinations clinics in the region, with two new dates added in Haliburton. A total of 800 appointment slots have been filled for Dec. 23 and 30 at the Haliburton Legion.
As of Dec. 21, everyone 18 years old and up are eligible for a COVID-19 booster shot. Highlands residents can book a shot through the provincial booking system at covid-19.ontario.ca/book-vaccine.
with files from Sam Gillett