The next week will be key to determining the course of the pandemic in Canada’s largest province, as Ontario reported more than 1,000 new daily COVID-19 cases for the first time Sunday just as the government deals with pushback on the possibility of further restrictions to slow the progress of the disease.
The rise in new cases to 1,042 in Ontario on Sunday, up from roughly 800 a day for most of the previous week, may reflect new infections resulting from family gatherings over the Thanksgiving weekend, according to the provincial government.
Quebec also crossed a significant milestone as it recorded its 100,000th case this year over the weekend. Across the country over the past seven days, an average of a little more than 1,000 people a day were treated for COVID-19 in Canadian hospitals. Over that same period, roughly 23 people died of COVID-19 daily.
In Ontario, new restrictions were imposed Oct. 10 in some of the most severely affected regions, including Toronto, York Region, Peel Region and Ottawa. The effect of those restrictions, which included closing indoor dining, gyms and cinemas, will become clearer this week, as there is typically a lag of about two weeks before the hoped-for drop in infections will be visible in the data.
“A thousand cases per day is not a milestone anyone wants to reach,” said Isaac Bogoch, an infectious-diseases specialist at Toronto’s University Health Network. “The seven-day averages are going up. That’s clearly not good. But when we think about what happened two weeks ago, this could be the result of Thanksgiving and people gathering together.”
He added that the restrictions imposed this month have not yet had time to work.
“I think the week ahead is going to be very telling. We’ll know if the policy implemented was sound and if we’re just seeing a spike related to Thanksgiving. We’ll see either cases continue to grow or we’ll see a plateau,” Dr. Bogoch said.
The Ontario government heard from its own MPPs resisting the idea of further restrictions in regions such as Halton this weekend. In a letter to Ontario’s top doctor, David Williams, that was also sent to Premier Doug Ford, the MPPs said the government risks losing the confidence of the public if it imposes blanket rules without more precise justification than “on the advice of medical experts.” The letter was signed by MPP Jane McKenna from Burlington, Parm Gill from Milton, Milton’s mayor and the chair of Halton Region.
Dr. Bogoch said he wouldn’t be surprised if the province took steps to move areas adjacent to COVID-19 hot spots to a more restrictive footing, and it’s possible that more restrictions will be coming for areas already hard hit, he said. Mr. Ford said Friday that his government will decide this week, perhaps as early as Monday, whether regions such as Halton and Durham could join the others in what’s known as a modified Stage 2, which includes the ban on indoor dining and drinking.
“If they do add additional restrictions in current hot spots, I would hope it’s data driven,” Dr. Bogoch said.
He said in the week ahead he’ll be watching daily case counts and the location of cases to see if they’re occurring in the traditional hot spots or if they’re spreading and worsening in other areas of the province. Another danger is the possibility that outbreaks could worsen in long-term care facilities, as they were responsible for more than 80 per cent of deaths in the first phase of the pandemic.
The rise in cases may be related to gatherings in private residences or places of worship, for example, or certain segments of the economy such as factories, and new measures could be tailored to target those issues, he said. “Let’s not fight blind. Let’s figure out what’s driving this and act accordingly,” Dr. Bogoch said.
Eddie Oliveira, owner of EddieO’s PourHouse and Kitchen in Milton, Ont., part of Halton Region, said he opposes a return to stricter lockdown measures that would end indoor dining at his business.
“For us to be pushed back to Phase 2, I wouldn’t say it would be devastating but it would be another punch in the gut,” Mr. Oliveira said.
He said his restaurant has had no cases of coronavirus, and has invested in keeping staff and customers safe. It has reduced capacity by half, installed Plexiglass around booths, does temperature checks with staff and guests, keeps a list of patrons for contact tracing and has installed decals to keep foot traffic inside one-way.
He feels the viability of local businesses is being compromised by the behaviour of people in neighbouring regions. He’d like to see narrower targeting employed to address the spread of COVID-19, rather than blanket measures that would hit restaurants, in particular, very hard.
“Not all businesses are doing it right. Find the businesses that aren’t doing it right and fine them,” he said.
Alexandra Hilkene, a spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott, said Sunday’s data are concerning.
“It takes approximately two weeks for public-health measures to show their full impact on the rates of COVID-19 transmission and other key criteria in communities. We will continue to closely monitor the situation in the coming days,” she said.
Quebec, less than two-thirds the size of Ontario by population, surpassed the 1,000 new cases a day mark in early October. Over the past 10 days, new case counts there have regularly topped 1,000, but were reported at 879 Sunday.
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