Ontario has ordered new sweeping restrictions in the COVID-19 hot spots of Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region in the face of “alarming” growth in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, a decision being met with relief from health care leaders but scorn by the business community.
With the province’s COVID-19 cases hitting a daily record high of 939, Premier Doug Ford’s government announced that new restrictions will take effect Saturday at 12:01 am. The province is prohibiting indoor dining and drink service at bars, restaurants and nightclubs in the three regions, as well as shuttering indoor gyms, cinemas, casinos and performing arts venues, for at least 28 days.
The province is also limiting team sports to training sessions only, and beginning on Tuesday, capping wedding receptions at 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors. The new limits do not apply to schools, child care centres or places of worship.
In addition, the government is asking everyone in Ontario to only leave home for essential reasons and for people in regions with a high number of cases not to travel to areas with lower transmission.
“In the last week the pandemic has picked up speed at an alarming rate,” Mr. Ford said Friday at Queen’s Park. “All trends are going in the wrong direction. Left unchecked, we risk worst-case scenarios first seen in Italy and New York City.”
The Premier said Ontario would allocate $300-million to help businesses affected by the restrictions with their fixed costs, including property taxes, hydro and natural gas bills. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday also announced a new rent relief program, details on the extension of the federal wage subsidy and the expansion of a loan program for businesses and not-for-profits.
In a separate briefing, Ontario public-health officials warned of rising COVID-19 numbers painting a more “worrisome and challenging and dangerous” picture than they did even a week ago. Steini Brown, Dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, said hospitalizations have increased 250 per cent over the past three weeks, with cases rising among elderly adults and in long-term care.
Intensive-care beds occupied by COVID-19 patients could reach 150 within the next 30 days, Dr. Brown said, leading to adverse impacts on the health care system. The positivity rate for COVID-19 tests is also high, reaching 10 per cent in some areas of Toronto.
Dr. Brown said the vast majority of new outbreaks are happening in indoor settings where it is difficult to wear a mask or physically distance. Schools, however, are the lowest source of outbreaks, he added.
“There is not the opportunity to either test more or contact-trace more as a way to suppress or control the epidemic,” he said.
Mr. Ford’s announcement came after the Ontario Hospital Association, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health and infectious-disease specialists called on the government to return the regions to Stage 2-type restrictions, which included shuttering indoor dining.
Anthony Dale, president and chief executive of the hospital association, warned the government two weeks ago that the rise in cases would lead to more hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths." Regrettably, what was once a theoretical risk is now reality – and it is upon us," Mr. Dale said.
Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario, said nurses are relieved the government imposed the new measures, but the moves should have come weeks ago.
“Nurses are appalled that communications from health officials have blamed and shamed the public, ignoring socioeconomic conditions that make it very hard for vulnerable sectors of the public to distance and isolate,” she said.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, meanwhile, called the measures “a crushing blow” to businesses that have barely recovered from the first wave of closings.
“These are among the hardest-hit industries, and while once again shut down, their bills will continue to pile up,” the CFIB’s director of provincial affairs said in a statement.
Ellis Jacob, CEO at Cineplex, said 22 of the company’s 68 movie theatres would now have to close. “We are very disappointed with the government’s decision to close our theatres,” he said, adding that no cases have been traced back to theatres since they reopened in July.
Both Opposition NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said Mr. Ford waited far too long to act, despite obvious signs the pandemic was entering an accelerating second wave.
With reports from Jeff Gray in Toronto and Marieke Walsh in Ottawa
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