SUDBURY -- After a concerning surge in new COVID-19 cases over the last week, Ontario is putting on the "emergency brake" in the Sudbury and Manitoulin area to help stop the further spread of the disease, forcing a return to lockdown.

The Ontario government made the announcement Thursday morning on the advice of the chief medical officer of health.

"Implementing an emergency brake to immediately interrupt transmission of COVID-19 is a key component of our government's plan to safely and gradually return public health regions to the framework," Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott said. "We have seen a rapid rise in the case rate in the Sudbury area, and swift action is needed to protect individuals, families and businesses and save lives."

The Public Health Sudbury and Districts service area will move to the Grey – Lockdown level of the province's COVID-19 Response Framework as of 12:01 a.m. March 12.

"As a result of the rapid deterioration of trends in key indicators, the emergency brake is being applied to move Public Health Sudbury and Districts to Grey-Lockdown to help reduce further spread of the virus in the region," said Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health. "We must remain vigilant in adhering to all public health and workplace safety measures to combat the threat posed by variants of concern."

Between March 3 and 9, the region's COVID-19 infection rate increased by 54.1 per cent to 75.9 cases per 100,000 residents, the province said in a news release on Thursday.

The lockdown is being used to stop the further spread of the disease, in which high incidents of variants of concern have been detected, and to protect the health care system capacity.

Thursday afternoon, Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger issued this statement:

"Friends and fellow residents,

Today brought the news we were hoping to avoid: Greater Sudbury is going back into lockdown as of midnight tonight. Based on the advice of its Chief Medical Officer, and in consultation with our local Medical Officer of Health, the Province is activating an “emergency brake” due to the concerning local trends.

This virus is spreading at an alarming rate in our region, and it’s having very real impacts. Between March 3 and 9, our case count increased by 54.1 per cent. The latest trends are extremely troubling. So while today’s news is difficult to hear, I respect the Province’s decision to do what is necessary to keep our community safe.

The COVID-19 vaccine is being distributed in our community, and Public Health announced today that the rollout is ramping up to offer more people the first dose. All residents who were born in or before 1941 are able to pre-register with Public Health Sudbury & Districts now. We need to be patient as the supply continues to come in, but everyone will have an opportunity to get vaccinated. That will make an enormous difference in our collective well-being.

In the meantime, it’s not too late for us to get ourselves back on track. Going back into lockdown is not easy on any of us, and I know it’s especially challenging for our local business community, who have worked so hard to adapt to continually changing circumstances. This has been a very long haul for everyone. But today’s news is a harsh reminder that we have to step it up and be even more vigilant in following all public health advice while vaccinations continue to roll out. 

So I’m imploring you – please continue to be part of the solution. Don’t have get-togethers with people who aren’t part of your household. Try your best to stay home as much as possible. Do everything you can to limit trips outside your home to essential reasons like work, school, exercise, grocery shopping or medical appointments. And if you do have to go out, practise physical distancing and wear your mask. 

Stay safe, Greater Sudbury." 

There are two COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized at Health Sciences North as of noon on Wednesday, with another six patients that have been tested for the disease and are awaiting results.

Since the beginning of March, 174 new infections have been confirmed with resolved, including two COVID-related deaths.

As of 4 p.m. on Wednesday, there are 211 active infections within the Sudbury area, most of which are in the City of Greater Sudbury. The health unit said 107 cases have screened positive for variants of concern and three infections are connected to the B.1.1.7. variant that originated in the U.K.

The Sudbury and Manitoulin Districts were moved into the Red-Control on March 8 after reopening in Orange-Restrict on Feb 16.

There are currently 11 COVID-19 outbreaks in the Sudbury area, including eight schools. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Ontario government is reporting active COVID infections at 21 Greater Sudbury schools.

Cases at Greater Sudbury schools where an outbreak has been declared:

  • Algonquin Road Public School - 3 staff
  • College Notre Dame - 3 individuals
  • Cyril Varney Public School - 4 students and 3 staff
  • Ecole Alliance St-Joseph - 2 individuals
  • Holy Trinity Catholic Elementary School - 3 individuals
  • Jean Hanson Public School - 2 students and 4 staff
  • Lasalle (Elementary and secondary) - 7 students
  • Lo-Ellen Park (Elementary and secondary) - 4 students

Schools with at least one active case:

  • Ecole separee Saint-Augustin
  • College Notre Dame
  • Two Rainbow District School Board sites
  • Chelmsford Valley District Composite School  
  • Lockerby Composite School
  • Ecole publique Macdonald-Cariter
  • Marymount Academy
  • Pius XII Catholic School
  • Princess Anne Public School
  • R.L. Beattie Public School
  • St. Benedict Catholic Secondary
  • St. Charles College
  • St. Francis Catholic School
  • Walden Public School

Since the pandemic began one year ago, 841 COVID-19 infections have been confirmed, 584 of those have been since Christmas Eve, with 630 total cases resolved including 15 COVID-related fatalities. Most of the COVID-related deaths, 13, have happened since Jan. 15. Seven of the deaths are connected to the COVID outbreak at Amberwood Suites retirement home, one at Finlandia Village, one at Pioneer Manor, and one was connected to the outbreak at Sudbury's hospital.

Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, the local medical officer of health, will hold a news conference on the lockdown announcement Thursday at 4 p.m.