Ontario and Quebec are dealing with a resurgence of COVID-19 cases and pressure is mounting on the provincial governments to address the issue – including the possibility of further lockdowns.
Both provinces are reporting the highest number of cases in months, with Ontario Premier Doug Ford saying that a second wave of the coronavirus is on the horizon.
Mr. Ford on Monday pleaded with people to stop large social gatherings and parties that are breaking public-health guidelines and driving up case numbers in Toronto, Ottawa and Peel region west of Toronto, which includes Brampton and Mississauga. Patrick Brown, the mayor of Brampton, has called for the province to review its current limits on large gatherings.
Social gatherings in Ontario are currently capped at 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors – with physical distancing measures in place – and Mr. Ford hinted that changes may be coming.
“This COVID is ramping up again, and we just can’t have the large social gatherings,” Mr. Ford said. “We will take every step necessary, including further shutdowns.”
In numbers that Health Minister Christine Elliott called disturbing, Ontario officials said on Monday that the province had recorded 313 new cases of COVID-19 the day before. It is the highest daily tally since June and the third consecutive day the count has shot over 200, with two-thirds of cases occurring in people under the age of 40. The Ontario legislature resumed Monday and the government is expected to release a fall preparedness plan by end of the month, a timeline the opposition said is far too late. Ms. Elliott said the government may pursue a regional approach on scaling back any reopening measures.
The rising numbers have prompted warnings from the heads of Ontario Hospital Association and the University Health Network, a cluster of major Toronto hospitals, that a return to strict lockdowns could be necessary to keep the health care system from becoming overwhelmed.
In the face of rising case counts in the city, Toronto Mayor John Tory said he would be willing to reimpose shutdowns but is focused for now on encouraging responsible public behaviour.
With a steady rise in cases in Quebec, Premier François Legault’s government is taking a series of measures to try to snap Quebeckers out of a state of fatigue and indifference toward public-health measures in order to avoid closing businesses such as bars and other activities. Mr. Ford and Mr. Legault, along with their key ministers, met last week to discuss the pandemic and to push for economic recovery.
The Quebec National Assembly resumes sitting Tuesday, and Mr. Legault is considering a special address to try to rally Quebeckers. On the weekend, new regulations allowed police to impose fines on people who refuse to wear masks in indoor public areas. In Quebec City alone, 350 warnings were handed out and one $400 ticket.
Last week the province enacted a colour-coded four-level alert system to warn Quebeckers they may be facing new restrictions.
Mr. Legault has said he wants to avoid closing schools at all costs. “We’ve seen cases rise for a month now, unfortunately. It’s important we don’t overload our hospitals,” Mr. Legault said Monday during brief remarks before a meeting with Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante.
Quebec reached 279 new cases Sunday, the highest level in three months, followed by 276 new cases Monday. The seven-day average of cases was 221 cases a day, about double the rolling seven-day average a month ago. So far hospitalizations were holding near their recent average of 124.
While Greater Montreal was the epicentre of infections in the first wave, areas far from the city are driving infections. Quebec City had 60 of the new cases Monday while Montreal, with three times the population, had 39.
Infectious disease experts who have been vocally critical of the Ontario government’s response in the pandemic say Queen’s Park needs to take action quickly to contain the rapidly rising numbers of new infections – and the snaking lineups forming outside the province’s overwhelmed COVID-19 testing centres.
Michael Warner, a critical-care doctor at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto’s east end, says the province should immediately put the start of school this week on hold in Toronto, particularly for schools set to operate with larger class sizes than those medical experts have warned are needed to curb the virus’s spread.
Calling for the Ontario government to release its plan to deal with a second wave of coronavirus, he called the rising case numbers that have followed the reopening of indoor restaurants – and strip clubs, where there have been outbreaks – entirely predictable.
“What’s a bigger priority? Being able to get a lap dance at a strip club or being able to go to school safely?” Dr. Warner said.
With a report from Oliver Moore in Toronto
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