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A masked woman walks past an art installation in Toronto on Friday.Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

The grim march of COVID-19 across Ontario continued unabated on Saturday, with authorities reporting another 17 people dying from the disease.

As several more regions prepared for tighter restrictions next week and total pandemic deaths in the province approached 4,000, authorities reported another sharp uptick in new cases even though the number of fatal infections was down sharply.

The latest data showed 1,873 new cases, bringing the province’s total caseload to date to 138,504. Another 47 people needed admission to hospital, and 19 more patients ended up on ventilators.

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With more than half the new reported cases occurring in Toronto and neighbouring Peel and York, the stresses on front-line health workers and hospitals were showing.

In a social media post, Dr. Stephen Flindall, an emergency physician at Southlake Regional Health Centre in York Region’s Newmarket, Ont., said his Friday night shift was “crazy.”

“Our ED was chaotic,” Flindall tweeted. “There is almost no more room in our in-patient wards, one has been closed due to a COVID outbreak, our ICU is full, and patients were arriving in droves. I fear the lockdown is too late.”

York Region, along with Windsor-Essex, is set for lockdown on Monday as happened with Toronto and Peel Region last month. That means indoor public events, dining in restaurants and bars, and close personal care services are all off-limits. Indoor sports facilities also must close.

In addition, social gatherings in locked-down areas are barred except for members of the same household, and health authorities urged people to leave home only for essential reasons. Shopping at non-essential retailers will be limited to curbside pickup.

The province said tighter restrictions were needed – measures in other areas were also being increased a notch – to slow the spread of COVID-19 so that schools can stay open and hospital capacity can be protected.

The disturbing COVID onslaught among the province’s most frail citizens also showed few signs of easing. Another 15 nursing home residents succumbed, with the total number of long-term care novel coronavirus fatalities reaching 2,381, authorities reported on Saturday.

In all, the province has now seen more than 9,200 cases of COVID-19 in 128 nursing homes since the pandemic began, an increase of 50 from previous reports. Cases among staff rose by 26, with a total of 3,635 having been infected, eight fatally.

Health Minister Christine Elliott urged people to observe anti-pandemic measures, including basic ones such as physical distancing, wearing a mask, washing hands and staying home if feeling unwell.

“The spread of COVID-19 has reached a critical point,” Elliott tweeted on Saturday. “We need everyone to do their part and follow public health advice.”

Health officials also reported completing a record 65,260 tests in the previous 24-hour period, and a backlog of 67,654 tests. The overall positivity rate, however, remained stable at 3.2 per cent, health officials said.

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