Ontario’s leadership is ‘confident’ that despite a small spike in COVID-19 cases and the rise of the BA.2 sub-variant of the virus, the province isn’t looking to shut down again any time soon.

On March 29, Ontario reported a total of 790 COVID-19 hospitalizations with 165 patients in intensive care units. Hospitalizations are up from 639 one week ago, while ICU admissions dropped from 179. Ontario says about 47 per cent of those patients were admitted specifically for COVID-19.

“Let’s continue being cautious. We’re prepared,” responded Ontario Premier Doug Ford, when asked about a potential shutdown during a virtual announcement last week.

“I’m confident in the amount of beds that we’ve grown over the last two years and the leadership of Minister Elliott. I’ll always be the cautious one. We’ve built up the resilience. We’ve built up the immunity. Everyone in Ontario has really pitched in. I think we’re doing well,” adds Ford.

The Premier notes Ontario’s been able to add 8,600 healthcare workers and 1,000 new intensive-care unit beds to the province’s health system since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, already helping to ease the pressure on the rest of our healthcare system.

“We do have very high rates of vaccination,” adds Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott. “With the rates of immunity that we have, we are protected. Dr. Moore did indicate that as we re-opened Ontario, we would see higher levels. But we are confident that we have the capability in our hospitals to be able to take care of anyone who needs a hospital bed.”

To further bolster Ontario’s health system, the province announced their new Plan to Stay Open on March 29, which aims to build a stronger, more resilient healthcare system that’s better prepared to respond to crises by filling long-standing gaps in the province’s workforce, supply chain and lack of hospital beds.

If the legislation is passed, Ontario says the Plan to Stay Open will look to recruit and retain more doctors, nurses and personal support workers across the province, will expand domestic production of personal protective equipment and will continue building healthcare infrastructure to build capacity.

Initiatives include free tuition and books for nursing students, enhance wages for personal support workers, reduced barriers for foreign-credentialed healthcare workers to practice in Ontario, a significant expansion of medical school education and the construction of 3,000 new hospital beds over 10 years.

“Now more than ever, our government recognizes the importance of doubling down on our commitment to building a stronger, more resilient health care system that is ready to respond to any crisis,” said Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford.

“We know that the former Liberal government was all talk and no action when it came to healthcare spending across the North, and our government is making the decision to never be caught off guard by a health emergency ever again.”

As it stands, Ontario ranks seventh among Canadian provinces in the number of family doctors per 100,000 patients, and the shortage is made worse in northern and rural areas, according to data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

CIHI adds that Ontario spends an average of 8 per cent less on healthcare per capita than any other province in Canada, outside of British Columbia.

"COVID-19 has shown us how crippling a public health crisis can be for our economy and our society,” said President of the Ontario Medical Association, Dr. Adam Kassam.

“One of the key lessons we learned is the importance of pandemic planning and readiness. Ontario’s doctors are eager to work with the government to implement these changes and ensure we are ready,” adds Kassam.

In new COVID-19 modelling earlier this month, Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table said hospitalizations and ICU admissions were both likely to increase after the relaxation of public health measures on March 21, but the spike won’t be as drastic as previous waves of the virus.

They say based on their surveillance of wastewater and trends across the province, hospital occupancy rates could increase from about 600 daily hospitalizations to about 900 hospitalizations per day. Still, that’s a drastic drop from the over 4,100 daily hospitalizations in January 2022.

Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table has also recommended that the province look at renewing mass COVID-19 vaccination campaigns, to look at renewing vaccine certificates that would require a third dose of the vaccine for high-risk settings, and be prepared to reintroduce mask mandates if needed.