Toronto and Peel Region are moving into “lockdown” effective midnight Monday as Ontario tries to curb a steep rise in COVID-19 cases, Premier Doug Ford announced Friday.
The shutdown will last a minimum of 28 days, equal to two incubation periods for the coronavirus, and the province says it will fine people $750 for violating public-health rules.
“Further action is required to prevent the worst-case scenario,” Ford told reporters.
Meanwhile, Durham and Waterloo regions are moving into the red “control” zones while Huron-Perth, Simcoe-Muskoka, southwestern Ontario and Windsor are moving to the orange “restrict” zone.
The lockdown restrictions for Toronto and Peel include:
No indoor gatherings with anyone outside a person’s household.
Individuals who live alone can have close contact with one other household.
Outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people.
Restaurants are limited to take-out, drive-through and delivery only.
Religious services, funerals and weddings are limited to 10 people indoors or 10 people outdoors.
Gyms are closed.
Non-essential retail and malls are limited to curbside pickup or delivery only.
Personal care services, casinos and bingo halls are closed.
Post-secondary institutions move to virtual instruction, with some exceptions, such as clinical training.
Pharmacies, doctor and dentist offices, grocery stores, essential services remain open.
Schools will also remain open.
Hospitalizations up by 22%, ICU visits by 50%
The measures come as Ontario reports 1,418 more cases of COVID-19.
Eight more people with COVID-19 have died, the province said Friday, bringing the official death toll to 3,451. So far this month, 315 people have died of COVID-19 in Ontario.
Nearly 80 per cent of cases reported in recent days are from regions in red zones, Ford said. At the same time, hospitalizations have increased by 22 per cent, and intensive care admissions have risen by 50 per cent.
Health officials and local politicians in Toronto and Peel have advocated and publicly supported additional, more far-reaching restrictions. Both areas are registering consistently high daily case counts and alarming test positivity rates. Local officials in York have instead pushed for very targeted measures.
Markham mayor urges Toronto, Peel residents not to travel to York Region
On Friday, Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti urged Toronto and Peel residents not to travel to York Region to gather or for holiday shopping.
York Region, where the positivity rate is around six per cent, opted against a possible lockdown because of “high compliance” by the public and businesses. However, the region is calling on the province to tighten red zone rules around shopping centres, which it says is needed now that nearby Toronto and Peel are in lockdown.
Police and bylaw officers will increase enforcement in areas where overcrowding is an issue, such as malls, big box retailers, grocery stores and banquet halls, it said.
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The new cases include 393 in Toronto, 400 in Peel Region and 168 in York Region. The province has now seen more than 100,000 confirmed cases of the illness since the first infection was reported in late January.
Measures prompt mixed reviews
Also on Friday, the province announced $600 million in relief for eligible businesses required to close or significantly reduce their services as a result of the new measures.
Still, the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses is concerned the lockdown will be “devastating” for small business owners in Toronto and Peel Region and is calling on the government to develop a policy for small businesses to remain open with capacity limits.
“Today’s restrictions once again create an unfair advantage for big box operators like Walmart and Costco, leaving Main Street retailers to shoulder the burden alone,” the federation’s written statement says.
“That large department stores can be open while small retailers are forced to close during the busiest season of the year is a direct punch to the gut of independent businesses.”
Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, said the new measures are likely to slow community spread of the virus, but will not be enough to dramatically lower surging case counts.
The government is still not restricting the right things to strike at where the virus is being spread, he said.
“We’re letting weddings go, we’re letting religious services happen,” he said. “These are things that are happening without masks, like singing and hugging, these sorts of things. We [have] to make those stop.”
Furness said the lockdowns will not be enough to bring infection levels down to a point where people can safely gather for the holidays.
The president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario slammed the government for what he said was a refusal to acknowledge the connection between schools being open and COVID-19 cases increasing.
“In bypassing schools with today’s lockdown announcement, Ford and Education Minister Lecce are letting schools remain open, with no data to support their claim that the coronavirus is not being spread by schools,” Sam Hammond said in a statement.
The union has called for increased measures to protect schools, including smaller class sizes and better ventilation.
COVID-19 still spreading in other parts of the province
Other public health units that reported double-digit case increases, according to the province, were:
Halton Region: 36
Simcoe Muskoka: 33
Grey Bruce: 21
All of the figures used in this story are found in the Ministry of Health’s daily update, which includes data from up until 4 p.m. the previous day. The number of cases for any particular region on a given day may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, which often avoid lag times in the provincial system.
For example, in the past 24 hours, Grey Bruce reported three new cases, Middlesex-London reported 27 cases and Waterloo reported 39.
The newly confirmed infections Friday push the seven-day average up to 1,373 after three straight days of declines.
They come as Ontario’s labs processed 48,173 tests for the novel coronavirus, the most on a single day since Oct. 8. The province reported a test positivty rate of 3.6 per cent.
Ontario’s testing network currently has capacity for up to 50,000 tests daily.
The provincial government has said it hopes to expand capacity to 100,000 tests per day by mid-December.
There are 12,623 confirmed, active COVID-19 infections provincewide, five fewer than yesterday. It was the third straight day that the number of resolved cases outpaced new ones, after reaching a second-wave high of 12,932 active cases on Nov. 17.
The number of people in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of the illness fell to 518, down from 526. Patients being treated in intensive care fell by four to 142, but those on ventilators increased by four to 92.
Notably, an internal report from Critical Care Services Ontario, shared by sources with CBC Toronto Thursday, put the number of patients in ICUs at 150. Last week, public health officials said that is the threshold before other surgeries and procedures will likely need to be cancelled to accommodate COVID-19 patients.
Health orders extended to Dec. 21
Meanwhile, the provincial government said Friday that public health orders currently in effect across Ontario will stay in place for at least another month.
The province said the current orders under the Reopening Ontario Act will remain in force until Dec. 21.
Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said extending the orders will ensure the province can address the health crisis and deliver critical services such as health-care.