Canada's Ontario province announces curbs to prevent spread of Omicron 'tsunami'

People queue up for their COVID-19 PCR test at Women's College Hospital, as the latest Omicron variant emerges as a threat, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada December 22, 2021. REUTERS/Cole Burston

TORONTO, Jan 3 (Reuters) - Canada's Ontario province on Monday announced restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus as officials warned of a "tsunami" of new COVID-19 cases in the days and weeks ahead due to the Omicron variant.

All publicly funded and private schools will move to remote learning starting on Wednesday until at least Jan. 17, Canada's most populous province said. The step was criticized by some parents.

"We do not support any possibilities of schools being delayed," Bronwen Alsop, a Toronto resident, told Reuters in an interview. Alsop said the curbs on schooling were causing "long-term collateral damage" to children.

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Added Athena Reich, a single mother of two: "You cannot expect mothers to leave the workforce to stay home with their children and monitor online learning."

Retail settings, including shopping malls, will be permitted to remain open at 50% capacity, the province said.

Capacity at indoor weddings, funerals, and religious services, rites and ceremonies will be limited to 50% capacity of the particular room, while outdoor services were going to be limited to the number of people that can maintain 2 meters (6 feet) of physical distance.

The restrictions will be in force for at least 21 days.

Staff absenteeism is expected to rise and affect operations in workplaces across Ontario due to Omicron infection and exposure, including in hospitals and schools, the province said.

"We face a tsunami of new cases in the days and weeks ahead," Ontario Premier Doug Ford told a news briefing on Monday. "Now we are bracing for impact."

Among the other measures announced on Monday were closing indoor dining at restaurants and bars; closing indoor concert venues, theaters and cinemas; and shutting indoor sport and recreational fitness facilities including gyms.

The measures also require businesses and organizations to ensure employees work remotely unless they are needed on-site.

There were 1,232 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the province, the government said on Monday, adding there were a total of 13,578 new COVID-19 cases.

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Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru and Kyaw Soe Oo in Toronto Editing by Howard Goller and Matthew Lewis

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