Canada's most populous province Ontario announces new coronavirus lockdown

Toronto, the country's biggest city, has already been in lockdown for nearly a month. PHOTO: AFP

MONTREAL (AFP) - Canada's most populous province, Ontario, will impose a new lockdown beginning on Saturday (Dec 26) for its 14 million inhabitants, its premier announced Monday as Covid-19 cases climb.

"Make no mistake, thousands of lives are at stake right now. If we fail to take action now the consequences could be catastrophic," Premier Doug Ford said at a news conference.

Mr Ford said the lockdown will last 28 days in the southern part of the province and 14 days in the less populated north.

Toronto, the country's biggest city, has already been in lockdown for nearly a month.

The new restrictions prohibit, among other things, private indoor gatherings outside the family circle.

Restaurants and non-essential businesses will only be open for take-away orders or deliveries.

Mr Ford also called on all Ontarians to stay in their homes and only go out when absolutely necessary.

"I want to start by giving you an honest assessment of where we stand today in Ontario. We saw this morning's modelling that our Covid-19 numbers continue accelerating at an alarming rate," he said.

"Unfortunately, despite the restrictions, we've seen growing numbers of people travelling between regions within Ontario," he said, adding that "our hospitals are filling up more each day."

With the announcement, nearly two-thirds of Canadians will be under full or partial lockdown. Quebec, the country's second most populous province, has put similar measures in effect until Jan 11.

On Monday, Canada had recorded more than half a million cases of coronavirus and nearly 14,300 deaths since the pandemic began.

Ontario, the province second most affected by the pandemic after Quebec, alone has recorded more than 158,000 cases and some 4,200 deaths.

Canada began vaccinating people in high-risk categories - including frontline health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities - on Dec 14, with a relatively limited supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

On Sunday Ottawa announced it will halt the entry of passenger flights from Britain for 72 hours, joining the list of nations taking action over a new strain of the coronavirus in the UK.

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