Ontario will scrap most mask mandates — including in schools, restaurants, gyms and stores — across the province on March 21, with remaining COVID-19 regulations also set to drop by the end of April.
The province says improving health indicators, such as a stable COVID-19 test positivity rate and declining hospitalizations, as well as Ontario’s high vaccination rate and the availability of antiviral treatments, allow for these steps.
The province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, announced the new changes Wednesday.
“We are now learning to live with and manage COVID-19 for the long term,” Moore said. “This necessitates a shift to a more balanced response to the pandemic.”
However, Moore said removing the mask mandate “does not mean the risk is gone” or the pandemic is over.
He noted masking requirements may need to be reinstated if there is another spike in COVID-19 cases, adding that vulnerable people should continue to take precautions despite the easing of restrictions.
“We should all be prepared that we may need to resume mask wearing,” he said, adding that he hopes anyone who remains vulnerable will continue to wear a mask.
WATCH | Masks will no longer be mandated in most settings:
“We will closely, carefully monitor COVID-19 trends across the province. We will not hesitate to take action should the situation change and we will inform Ontarians of any significant developments,” he said.
All restrictions to lift on April 27
The next step in Ontario’s reopening will come on March 14, when mandatory vaccinate-or-test policies end for workers in schools, child-care settings, hospitals and long-term care. Individual organizations can keep their own requirements in place, and most hospitals have said they will continue their strict vaccine mandates.
On March 21, masking requirements will be removed in most indoor settings in the province, including restaurants, retail, fitness centres and grocery stores and schools.
- You can read the province’s full update at the bottom of this story.
Mandates will still remain in place for a period of time for public transit, long-term care and retirement homes, shelters, jails and congregate care and living settings. Toronto’s top doctor has recommended the city’s mask mandates expire in lockstep with Ontario’s.
Other measures in schools will also be lifted on that date, including removing cohorting and daily on-site screening. In addition, all other regulatory requirements for businesses will be removed, including passive screening and safety plans.
Then on April 27, all remaining mask requirements and emergency orders will expire.
Meanwhile, Ontario is also expanding its list of settings eligible for PCR testing to include home and community care settings and provincial demonstration schools.
‘Not supported by science,’ head of science table says
Shortly before Moore’s announcement, Premier Doug Ford said Ontario will remain cautious even after mask mandates are dropped, adding that “anyone who wants to wear a mask [is] more than welcome to.
“If you want to keep your mask on, keep it on. If you want to take it off, take it off,” Ford said at a news conference.
The province has already begun rolling back some pandemic health measures, as it lifted proof-of-vaccination rules for certain businesses as well as capacity limits for businesses and social gatherings last week.
Dr. Peter Jüni, who heads Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, said “it’s too early to tell” if removing mask mandates is the right move at this time.
Speaking to CBC Radio’s Metro Morning before the announcement, Jüni was asked if the province’s move was a scientific or political decision.
“It’s not supported by science right now because it’s just too early. We would need at least one to two weeks more data to say, ‘okay we’re stable’ and we just make it to the next step,” he said.
Several other experts agree.
Dr. Gerald Evans, an infectious diseases physician, says the removal of capacity limits, vaccine certificates and mask
mandates is happening in a relatively short amount of time, and that mask requirements should have been kept in place until the weather gets warmer and virus activity naturally diminishes.
WATCH | Infectious disease specialist says masks ‘imperfect’ but still help:
“I’m as anxious as anyone to get out of the pandemic and to go back to something that was what we had before 2020, but on the other hand, we have to be very careful,” Evans said.
“There’s a kind of almost a narrative being driven here that everything’s over. We’re all done. Let’s just move forward. And I think we need to just do that with a little bit more … time-based caution.”
The government’s plan was also met with backlash from one of the largest education unions in the country.
In a news release, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) called the plan “premature” and said this will put students at risk of having in-person learning once again disrupted.
Isolation guideline changes starting Wednesday
Isolation guidelines are also being changed Wednesday for close contacts of someone with COVID-19 or who is symptomatic.
No one who is a close contact of a person outside their household with COVID-19 has to isolate now, though they are still recommended to wear a mask outside the home for 10 days and avoid high-risk people and settings.
If a household member tests positive or has symptoms, people do not need to isolate if they are 18 or older and have received a booster dose, if they are under 18 and have two vaccine doses, or if they tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 90 days.
Ontario is also updating the way it reports COVID-19 deaths starting Friday. The province will classify whether COVID-19 caused a death, contributed to a death, or if the cause of death is unknown or missing. As well, Ontario will report deaths by vaccination status and age group, and remove from the cumulative total any deaths that are now classified as being unrelated to COVID-19.
Data provided Wednesday by the province indicates that the majority of reported COVID-19 deaths have been caused by the virus, with about another 20 per cent listed with COVID-19 as a contributing factor. Less than 10 per cent of the deaths are classified as being unrelated.
751 COVID-19 hospitalizations, 27 more deaths reported
Meanwhile, the province is reporting 751 people in hospital with COVID-19 and 27 more deaths linked to the virus on Wednesday.
Today’s reported hospitalizations mark a slight dip from Tuesday when 779 were reported, and are down from 847 this time last week.
According to the Ministry of Health, about 46 per cent of those admitted to hospital were directly seeking treatment for COVID-19 symptoms, while 54 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have since tested positive for the virus.
Of the hospitalizations reported, there are 241 patients in intensive care, marking a decrease from 246 on Monday and down from 273 exactly one week ago.
About 82 per cent of those patients were admitted to ICU specifically for the virus, while the rest were admitted for other reasons but also tested positive for the virus.
Ontario reported another 1,947 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, though Moore warned the actual number of new cases each day is likely 10 times higher than what is being reported through limited PCR testing.
The 27 additional deaths reported Wednesday push the official death toll to 12,618.
Firing Bank of Canada head would spark global ‘shock wave’: ex-budget watchdog – Global News
If any Canadian government were to fire the head of the Bank of Canada, the result would be a “global financial shock wave,” warned the country’s former budget watchdog.
In an interview with The West Block guest host Eric Sorenson, former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page said the Bank of Canada’s reputation is one as a “strong” and “transparent” institution.
“We’ve gotten used to, over the past three decades, having an independent central bank that is independent — making decisions on these policy interest rates that is divorced from the political environment,” said Page, now president and CEO of the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy at the University of Ottawa.
“It would be quite a shock wave, a global financial shock wave, to have a government literally remove a central banker who, by all intents, seems to be doing a fine job — but is doing a very difficult job.”
Page had been asked what the effects could be if a Canadian government were to fire a central banker.
That comes as Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre has been leading a campaign of criticism centring on the Bank of Canada’s handling of rampant inflation, which sits at 6.7 per cent.
The domestic target is two per cent per year.
As part of his criticism of the central bank, Poilievre has vowed that he would fire Tiff Macklem, governor of the Bank of Canada, if elected prime minister. That comment triggered rapid criticism over concerns it signalled an intent by the perceived leadership frontrunner to interfere with the bank.
Long-standing tradition is that the Bank of Canada operates independently of political decisions, with governors appointed on seven-year terms.
Officials have emphasized that those longer terms are what allows them to operate with a “measure of continuity over economic cycles — not electoral cycles — and allows for decision making that considers the long-term economic interests of Canadians.”
The Bank of Canada has opted to keep interest rates at rock-bottom during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is among the factors experts say have fuelled skyrocketing home prices. And as inflation keeps pushing the cost of living higher and higher, critics of the central bank like Poilievre have pointed the finger and argued its low rates are powering domestic inflation.
Canada, however, is far from alone.
Inflation is rampant around the world right now, with no clear end in sight.
High consumer spending amid the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions has combined with supply chain shocks worsened both by factory closures caused by the reality that the virus is still circulating in high numbers, as well as the sharp shortages in supplies caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Bank of Canada forecasts nearly 6% average inflation outlook in 1st half of 2022
“I think it’s a very simplification to assume that if we just change the leader, that somehow this sort of global environment — and inflation truly is a global issue — just somehow disappears,” Page said.
Sorenson asked: “Can the Bank or the Canadian government on their own bring inflation down in this country?”
Page said: “No.”
“This is a global phenomenon. A lot of it is supply-related, and it’s because of those very strong supports that went in 2020 to help during the lockdown,” he added.
“The economy’s come back really fast and eventually markets will adjust.”
So when might Canadians expect to see inflation back in a more normal range?
Page said the Bank of Canada’s moves to raise interest rates will play a role in helping slow the economy.
“I think over the next couple of years we could see inflation back maybe in that three per cent range.”
Sticker Shock: Coping with the rising cost of inflation in Canada
© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
David Milgaard, who advocated for justice after he was wrongfully convicted of murder, has died
David Milgaard, who was wrongfully convicted of murder and spent more than 23 years in prison, has died. Milgaard was only 17 when he was arrested for the rape and murder of Gail Miller in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He was released from prison in 1992 after DNA evidence proved his innocence. In 1999, Milgaard was awarded $10 million in a wrongful conviction lawsuit against the Canadian government. Milgaard and two friends had been on a road trip, driving through the city when the murder happened.
Milgaard, who was born in Winnipeg, had been living in Calgary with his son and daughter.
Milgaard maintained his innocence throughout his time in prison. His mother Joyce Milgaard, who died in 2020, tirelessly advocated on her son’s behalf. In the decades since his release, Milgaard had spoken publicly, calling for changes in how Canadian courts review convictions.
His picture is now included in the Canadian Journey’s gallery at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Isha Khan, the museum’s CEO, said Milgaard was a human rights defender.
“He is someone we know, and the reason we know is that he was able to tell his story, and it takes a special kind of person to continue to try to connect with people,” she said, adding his work is not over.
“There are people across this country in correctional institutions who have been wrongfully convicted, who need a voice and don’t have a voice that David Milgaard did for whatever reason it may be, and it is our job to listen and to look for those stories.”
Milgaard had recently been pushing for an independent review board to prevent miscarriages of justice.
“David was a marvellous advocate for the wrongly convicted, for all the years he’s been out since 1992. We’re going to miss him a lot. He was a lovely man,” James Lockyer, a Toronto-based lawyer, told CTV News Channel on Sunday.
Lockyer, a founding director of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, joined Milgaard’s case following his release in 1992 and helped him through the process to get DNA testing done. Lockyer said as a result of the DNA evidence, a man named Larry Fisher was arrested, and charged with the rape and murder. Fisher died while serving a life sentence.
Ontario international students, families making 'massive sacrifices' for the Canadian dream – CBC.ca
The death of an Indian student in Toronto last month made international headlines, but while Kartik Vasudev’s story ended in tragedy, his parents’ sacrifices offer a glimpse into the hardships that many international students and their families face to achieve the dream of a future in Canada.
Vasudev’s father, Jitesh Vasudev, told CBC News he and his wife spent their entire life savings and mortgaged their house to take out a loan of $50,000, just to afford the first year of his son’s education in Canada, before he was shot and killed.
“The only mistake of my innocent child was that he dreamt big of studying in a foreign country, and he wanted to make a name of himself while representing India,” said Vasudev’s mother, Pooja Vasudev, in a video posted to Instagram. “We had a lot of dreams and expectations with our child, he was going to be our support in our old age.”
International students who spoke to CBC News say those kinds of sacrifices are common, and can take a major toll.
They say international students can pay almost four times more in tuition fees than domestic students, and are calling for change.
An Ontario Auditor General’s report from last year highlighted the reliance of Ontario colleges on international student tuition.
The report showed that while international students represented only 30 per cent of the total enrolment in public colleges, they accounted for 68 per cent of tuition fee revenue at a total of $1.7 billion. A majority of students — 62 per cent — were from India.
According to a 2020 report from Global Affairs Canada, international students contributed $16.2 billion and $19.7 billion to Canada’s GDP in 2017 and 2018.
A better future in Canada
Students and advocates told CBC News that many international students from India come to Canada to become permanent residents and build a better future for themselves as well as their families.
They say there are limited employment opportunities in India compared to Canada, leading their parents to go to great lengths to send them abroad.
Jobanpreet Singh knows that struggle firsthand.
“[Vasudev’s family] sacrificed a lot to send their child to Canada for a brighter future,” the 22-year-old international student said. “I can’t imagine how painful it must have been for them.”
Born and raised in a farmer’s family in Punjab, India, Singh came to Canada as an international student in August 2021, where he is studying at the Academy of Learning Career College in Toronto.
For his first year in Canada, his family spent around $30,000 on his tuition and living expenses.
Singh said his family spent all their savings, took out massive loans and sold assets just to be able to pay for his first year of college.
“[International students] have work stress, school stress, and we have extremely high tuition fees, which is topped off with the fact that we can only work 20 hours a week,” he said.
Singh said it is very difficult to handle expenses and living costs in Toronto while working those limited hours.
According to a statement from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), “limiting off-campus work to 20 hours per week reflect the fact that the focus for international students in Canada is on their studies.”
Tuition gap between domestic and international students
Sarom Rho from advocacy group Migrant Students United says international students who come to Canada also face rising costs of tuition fees, which are already three to four times more than domestic tuition.
“The majority of current and former international students and their families have made massive sacrifices for them, for example by selling lands, taking out massive educational loans, selling assets, just to pay for these extremely high tuition fees,” said Rho.
Rho added that because of these financial burdens, international students also face significant mental health issues.
Ontario’s Ministry of Colleges and Universities said in a statement that it understands that as newcomers to Canada and Ontario, international students can face unique challenges.
“Student wellbeing is paramount, and we support the steps taken by Ontario’s colleges and universities to ensure that international students are well supported before and after their arrival in Ontario,” said James Tinajero, spokesperson for the ministry.
Gurpreet Singh, a 22-year-old Seneca College student, came to Canada in September 2020. His parents mortgaged their entire agricultural farmland to send him to Canada.
He said because of his international student status in Canada, he can’t apply for scholarships and bursaries at his college.
“That’s a huge drawback for us,” said Gurpreet. “If we’re not getting anything extra [over] the domestic students and we pay the same taxes, then why do we pay this huge amount for our tuition?”
The ministry says college and university boards of governors have the full authority to set tuition fees for international students.
“Colleges and universities are allowed the discretion to establish tuition fees for international students at levels the institutions deem appropriate,” said Tinajero.
Gurpreet has completed half of his education, and the remaining two semesters of his studies will cost him about $16,000. But instead of asking for help from his family, Gurpreet is taking the responsibility on himself.
According to the IRCC, international students can work full-time when they are on a scheduled break, like during winter and summer holidays, or during a fall or spring reading week.
Gurpreet is currently on a summer break from his college. He says this is his last chance to work full-time before he begins his third semester in the fall.
For the next four months of summer break, Gurpreet says he’ll be working in two different warehouses doing long days of general labour.
“Right now I’ve [got] to concentrate on my work to pay off my fees, so I’m willing to compromise for the next four months,” he said.
“I know this is going to be hard, but these hardships are temporary, and there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
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