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Southlake hospital in Newmarket is pictured, Monday, July 20, 2020.

Galit Rodan/The Globe and Mail

Ontario’s hospitals are sounding the alarm about rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in the province, warning that a spike could force new lockdowns within weeks.

The heads of both the Ontario Hospital Association and the University Health Network, a cluster of Toronto hospitals, spoke out on the weekend about the danger unless people start taking better care. Their warnings came as the province reported its third straight day with more than 200 new COVID-19 cases.

On Monday, the province reported 313 new cases along with one new death from the virus.

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“If growth continues exponentially … we could easily be facing a situation in just a few weeks where the government may have to contemplate measures that no one would want to see it contemplate again,” Ontario Hospital Association president Anthony Dale said in an interview.

“Everything about staying open and trying to live our lives as best we can while the pandemic is here is predicated on controlling community spread, and we’re just, we’re seeing it slip away, I’m afraid, unless we’re far more diligent as individuals.”

Spiking COVID-19 cases in British Columbia prompted that province to clamp down last week on entertainment facilities. Nightclubs and banquet halls were closed, bars and restaurants had their hours reduced and venues were ordered to reduce music to conversational level, so as not to encourage shouting.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott noted that the province had deferred any further loosening of restrictions for four weeks.

“As we’ve said from the outset, we will not hesitate to take further actions should they be recommended by our public health experts,” Alexandra Hilkene wrote in an e-mail. “It remains critical that everyone continue to act responsibly by following public health advice.”

The OHA’s Mr. Dale urged people to stick to the basics of hand-washing and physical distancing, while avoiding unsafe gatherings.

“If we act now, we can continue to live as we have been for the past several months, with a relatively open society,” he said.

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“If we let things slip, and community growth, case growth, accelerates exponentially, and you know all signs suggest we’re at the very, very beginning of that now, you can imagine that the hospital sector will ultimately be placed in some jeopardy.”

In a tweet Saturday, UHN head Kevin Smith said that the hospital network, which for weeks had had no COVID-19-related admissions, had seven. Most of them, he wrote, were in intensive care. In an interview Sunday, he warned that going back to a weekly doubling of cases, as happened during the first wave, could quickly overwhelm his facilities.

“If people don’t change this trajectory, we’re like a month away from getting to that point,” Dr. Smith said.

“And remember, we’re it, we’re the end of the road at UHN, there is nowhere else to go … so when we’re full, we know that we have the sickest people being transferred in from other places, and they’ll be full as well.”

Dr. Smith said his tweet was prompted in part by his observation while out in public that mask-wearing and physical-distancing behaviours seemed to be slipping. “We’ve just gotten blasé about it,” he said.

In Toronto, public-health officials have been warning in recent weeks that people need to be diligent with such behaviour.

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“We are not powerless here,” Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Eileen de Villa told a briefing last week. “There is so much that is under our control, and that we can do to keep resurgence in check. We need to think about what it is that we’re doing, the risks of our actions and if they’re worth it. That’s a decision only you can make.”

Case numbers in the city have been rising recently and Toronto on Sunday issued a warning that patrons at Club Paradise, a strip bar around Bloor and Lansdowne, could have been exposed. Since Sept. 4, according to the city, six employees and one patron of the business have tested positive.

- With a file from The Canadian Press

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