Doug Ford to announce provincewide lockdown on Thursday

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announces the new shutdown due to the

Ontario Premier Doug Ford watches a health-care worker prepare a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a University Health Network vaccine clinic in Toronto on January 7.

Ontario health officials are reporting almost 2,600 new cases of COVID-19 for first time in more than two months. "They spread faster and they do more harm than the virus we were fighting past year. We're fighting a new enemy".

Ford's shutdown, one step above the grey-lockdown level of the province's pandemic response framework, comes into effect first thing Saturday and will last for at least four weeks.

"While experts were warning him of explosive growth of more infectious and more deadly variants, he cancelled public health protections", said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath in a statement.

Officials said the main variant spreading in the province - known as B.1.1.7 - is 50% more lethal, twice as likely to send patients to intensive care units and three times as likely to require ventilation.

Schools will remain open for in-person learning, although some Ontario students have been learning virtually since September.

The province also reported 39 new virus-related deaths over the same two-day stretch.

For full details on the shutdown and other measures involved in the "emergency brake", visit the Ontario government's COVID-19 shutdown page.

Indoor gatherings are only allowed with members of the same household while outdoor gatherings are limited to five people and physical distancing must be maintained.

That's despite new modelling released by Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table on Thursday that shows the number of new cases in Ontario could drop to as few as 1,000 a day by the end of April if a stay-at-home order were implemented for up to four weeks, while vaccinations continue.

It was just Tuesday that the province forced the Middlesex-London region back into the red-control zone due to climbing cases.

Prohibiting indoor and outdoor dining.

Personal care services such as hair salons are closed.

But while the stay-at-home order may not have been well received, it did seem to stop people from coming into the big-box drugstore where 22-year-old Odessa Ordanza works as a cashier in Mississauga, Ont.

"Ontario, like many other provinces and jurisdictions around the world, is in the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and immediate action is required to help turn the tide", Elliott said.

On Thursday, officials reported more than 2,500 new cases of COVID-19, a almost 14% increase in hospitalizations and ICU admissions increasing dramatically.