Ontario reports record-high 2,553 new COVID-19 cases amid criticism of holiday vaccination delays

The head of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccination distribution task force, retired general Rick Hillier, is scheduled to hold a news conference at 11 a.m. ET in Toronto. 

Then at 3 p.m. ET, the province’s associate chief medical officer of health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, is set to provide a briefing on the COVID-19 situation.

You can both live in this story.

Ontario reported a two-day total of 4,492 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday as public health officials faced criticism for scaling down the province’s vaccination program over the holidays.

The 2,553 cases in today’s update are a new single-day high for Ontario. The report released by the province this morning includes daily case counts for both Sunday and Monday this week, as no numbers were published by the Ministry of Health yesterday.

Ontario logged 1,939 additional cases on Sunday, according to the report. 

Meanwhile, critics have taken issue with the province’s decision to temporarily ramp down vaccinations, saying it cannot afford to delay immunizations any further. 

The province said five vaccination clinics were open on Sunday, 10 were back in action yesterday and all sites are set to resume immunizations today.

But in an interview with CBC Toronto on Monday, retired general Rick Hillier, chair of the province’s COVID-19 task force, said “we’re exactly where we planned to be.”

“I’m not in a race against other provinces; what we are in is a race to make sure the people of Ontario are getting this vaccine,” he said. 

“We learn as we go and we increase our speed.”

The latest numbers released show that 13,200 of the received 90,000 shots have been administered in Ontario since the province received its first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine mid-month — far behind the pace of other provinces. 

In the coming weeks, officials want to be able to offer about 12,000 doses a day with a view to expanding even further in the months ahead.

Asked for a justification for the closures, Hillier said it was based on advice that front-line workers needed a break. 

“They’ve been working under terrible stress, terrible hours, under terrible conditions oftentimes for 10 months. And they had a little time planned with their supervisors for their time off at Christmas,” he said. 

Ontario changes COVID-19 vaccination plans

This comes after Ontario announced on Monday that it’s changing its vaccination plans following a growing consensus against reserving doses and instead vaccinating as many people as possible. 

According to the province, clinical guidance recommended using half the available vaccine supplies while reserving a second dose in the event of supply chain disruptions during the initial rollouts in Toronto and Ottawa. 

But in a statement issued Monday, Alexandra Hilkene, spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott, said the province is scrapping that plan, instead counting on confirmed shipments of the vaccine set to arrive in the coming weeks. 

“We’re going to keep our eye to make sure that the second dose for those individuals is on our … horizon,” Hillier said.

“We know that it’s coming and if it’s not, we’ll just slow down a little bit so we do have that second dose.” 

| Chair of Ontario’s vaccine task force speaks on holiday stoppage

CBC Toronto’s Chris Glover asks the chair of Ontario’s vaccine task force, retired general Rick Hillier, to justify the holiday stoppage of the province’s COVID-19 vaccine program. 8:33

The storage requirements for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine mean it will be used primarily in hospitals, while the more recently approved Moderna vaccine will go to long-term care homes, congregate settings and more rural communities.

Hillier said the Moderna shipment to Ontario is expected by the end of December, and the vaccine will be rolled out within less than a week later. 

The province did not release its daily tally of new COVID-19 cases and deaths on Monday, meaning today’s numbers will cover two days.

On Sunday, the province recorded 2,005 new infections and 18 new deaths related to the novel coronavirus.

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