TORONTO — Ontario will begin administering COVID-19 vaccinations at hospitals in Toronto and Ottawa on Tuesday.
Premier Doug Ford said Thursday that “a very small number” of doses are expected to arrive in the province in the coming days.
The University Health Network in Toronto and the Ottawa Hospital will be the first sites to receive and administer those vaccines to health-care workers in long-term care homes and other high-risk settings, he said.
“Ontario is ready to receive COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they are available,” Ford said in a statement.
The news comes a day after Health Canada approved the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer.
Ford said the province has confirmed all necessary security measures are in place to receive the shipment from Pfizer.
Ford said the Ottawa hospital was one of the sites selected to administer initial batches of the vaccine in part to test and validate provincial distribution networks, and “in recognition of the challenges the region has faced with certain long-term care home outbreaks.”
The province said additional details on the rollout of the initial vaccines will be released Friday.
Ford said earlier this week that vulnerable seniors, their caregivers, and health-care workers will be among the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the province, but cautioned that Ontario is still a long way from being able to offer the shot to the broader public.
Adults in Indigenous communities, residents of retirement homes, and recipients of chronic home health care will also be priority groups, but it may be April before the shots are widely available to others.
Ontario reported a record 1,983 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, and 35 new deaths due to the virus.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said 515 cases were in Peel Region, 496 in Toronto, and 208 in York Region.
The government was expected to release new COVID-19 projections later on Thursday.
The province’s chief medical officer of health said earlier this week that the data will indicate whether lockdowns in Toronto and Peel Region that started two weeks ago are working.
Projections released early last month suggested Ontario could see as many as 6,500 new daily cases by mid-December unless steps were taken to limit the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, the province’s fiscal watchdog warned that people in Ontario could face higher taxes or service cuts as municipalities face billions of dollars in COVID-19-related expenses.
Financial Accountability Officer Peter Weltman said the pandemic will cost Ontario municipalities $6.8 billion over two years.
He also warned that while the joint federal-provincial restart agreement inked earlier this year provided a $4-billion relief, and municipalities will find some savings, a $2.4-billion shortfall exists for the coming year.
Barring further intervention from upper levels of government, the costs will fall to local taxpayers, he said.
“Every municipality will be different, some will have more, some will have less, but nevertheless, there’s still a gap,” Weltman said. “The only way to make that up for municipalities is either cutting services, or raising taxes.”
Municipal leaders have been calling for help from the provincial and federal governments to help with the funding shortage. Toronto Mayor John Tory called for a “Safe Restart 2.0” agreement for municipalities in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Doug Ford.
“As we look ahead to 2021, it is clear that both our revenue shortfalls and additional expenditures to support vulnerable communities are likely to continue, for at least part of the year,” Tory wrote on Thursday.
Tory said the City of Toronto is forecasting a $1.5-billion deficit by the end of 2021.
“That is after substantial savings in the hundreds of millions of dollars have been identified,” he said.
Weltman said he anticipates municipalities will need to hear about any additional aide package over the next two to three weeks so that they can incorporate it into the budgets.
Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark said Thursday that municipalities will receive clarity on a second phase of funding before the end of the year.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 10, 2020.