More Ontario communities will move to Stage 3 of reopening this Friday, but Toronto, Peel Region and the Windsor-Essex area are being held back in the midst of rising COVID-19 cases.
Windsor-Essex recorded 103 new cases of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 between Saturday and Monday, 67 of which were detected among agri-farm workers. Over the same period of time, Toronto reported 107 new cases, Peel 102.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Christine Elliott said that “28 of Ontario’s 34 public-health units are reporting five or fewer cases, with 18 of them reporting no new cases at all” on Monday.
The latest regions and cities moving to Stage 3 on Friday are Durham, Halton, Hamilton, Haldimand-Norfolk, Lambton, Niagara and York. They will be allowed to reopen indoor bars and dining spaces, movie theatres, gyms and casinos under a set of strict guidelines and physical-distancing measures.
Indoor gatherings of a maximum of 50 people, and outdoor gatherings of up to 100 people, will also be permitted as long as physical distancing is respected.
Premier Doug Ford asked the remaining areas – Toronto, Peel and Windsor-Essex – to “please be patient,” as the province continues gathering the four weeks’ worth of data required for an official move to Stage 3.
Mr. Ford said the province has been working with Toronto Mayor John Tory and counterparts in Peel and the Windsor area, along with their public-health units, to assess the situation and find a way forward. “We know as a province that we can’t ease up,” the Premier said. “We can’t give this virus an absolute inch, and part of the process is learning from other jurisdictions about what works, and what doesn’t work.”
As restaurants, bars and other establishments prepare to reopen, Mr. Ford has also indicated that jurisdictions can impose further public-health restrictions on this phase of economic reopening.
The province made the announcement as mayors across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, or GTHA, are calling for additional public-health measures ahead of Stage 3, citing concerns over the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus in drinks and dining settings. In recent weeks, provinces such as Quebec and Alberta have seen an uptick in coronavirus cases following the reopening of bars and restaurants.
On Saturday, Mr. Tory wrote a letter to Mr. Ford asking that six additional public-health measures be added to the province’s legal Stage 3 regulation surrounding bars and restaurants.
“I believe ensuring these are requirements, rather than recommendations, will help ensure compliance and, ultimately, protect the health of our residents,” the mayor wrote. On Monday, GTHA mayors and chairs released a statement expressing their “support for possible addition of public-health recommendations to be added to the provincial regulations guiding Stage 3.”
In his press conference, Mr. Ford said jurisdictions have the power to impose additional public-health restrictions.
“Every chief medical officer, all 34 of them in the province, under Section 22 [of the province’s health act], they can put stricter restrictions on bars. And, you know something, I wouldn’t disagree with that,” Mr. Ford said. “But that’s strictly up to the local chief medical officer. If they want to do that, by all means.”
Mr. Ford said Ontario and Toronto’s chief medical officers “are in very frequent contact to develop a set of protocols that’s going to keep the people of the City of Toronto safe and healthy.”
Mr. Tory and city Medical Officer of Health Eileen de Villa both stressed the importance of stricter rules on indoor bars because of the higher risk of transmission in such places.
“It takes only one person with COVID-19 in this type of setting to potentially infect many others,” Dr. de Villa said. “We must accept some risks with reopening, but the critical point is to make informed decisions that balance the risk with the potential benefits. We need to find the balance that helps our city to move forward in the safest way possible.”
With a report from Oliver Moore in Toronto
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