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Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks in Toronto, on Feb. 8, 2021.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Eleven Ontario health units will be placed under the tightest restrictions short of a full lockdown when they return to the province’s colour-coded pandemic response framework next week.

The province announced today what restrictions would be placed on the 27 public health units leaving the provincewide stay-at-home order on Feb. 16.

Niagara Region will be the only region in the grey-lockdown zone, which will allow businesses to open at 25 per cent capacity.

Chatham-Kent Hamilton; Halton Region; Durham Region; Middlesex-London; Region of Waterloo; Simcoe-Muskoka; Thunder Bay District; Wellington-Dufferin Guelph; Windsor-Essex and Southwestern health units will be in the red level.

Brant County; Eastern Ontario; Haldimand-Norfolk; Huron Perth; Lambton; Ottawa; Sudbury; Porcupine and Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District health units will be in the orange level.

Algoma; Grey Bruce; Northwestern and Peterborough health units will be in the yellow level.

Meanwhile, the use of rapid COVID-19 testing in Ontario’s schools, long-term care homes and essential workplaces will be expanded in the coming weeks, the government said Friday.

The move comes at a time when students are returning to schools for in-person learning and the province is gradually reopening the economy after an emergency order expired earlier this week.

Once the program has ramped up, health officials say they expect to have one million rapid tests distributed every week.

Premier Doug Ford said the tests will provide results in a matter of minutes.

“It’s important to get them out the door as quickly as possible to provide an added layer of protection for our front-line workers and vulnerable citizens, especially those in rural and remote areas of the province,” Ford said in a statement.

The expansion comes amid growing concerns about COVID-19 variants, which experts have warned are more transmissible and could derail progress made to contain virus spread.

The province said Friday it has received six million rapid antigen tests since November, and has distributed approximately two million.

Health officials said the timeline for ramped up rapid testing would depend on how many tests Ontario would secure through the federal government.

So far, the province says it has distributed over 900,000 rapid tests to 455 long-term care homes and anticipates weekly demand in the homes will be for approximately 385,000 tests.

Approximately 220,000 have been distributed to 152 retirement homes, with anticipated demand for 118,000 tests a week.

The government said it has also provided 170,000 rapid tests to 30 industry sites like Ontario Power Generation, construction firm Ellis Don and manufacturer Bombardier Aviation. The weekly demand for tests in essential workplaces is anticipated to be 300,000.

The province has already said it plans to conduct 50,000 tests a week in its schools, with half of them being rapid tests.

Officials expect to have rapid testing in place in Toronto, Peel and York Region schools when they reopen next week.

Ontario reported 1,076 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and 18 more deaths linked to the virus.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said there are 361 new cases in Toronto, 210 in Peel Region, and 122 in York Region.

Canada's chief public health officer says that while there has been recent progress on bringing down the number of new COVID-19 cases, loosening restrictions must be done with caution and that provinces must be ready to reapply them quickly if things start to get worse, especially with the new variants.

The Canadian Press

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