More areas of Ontario will be allowed to reopen businesses and services on Friday, but not Toronto, Peel Region or Windsor because of a higher number of COVID-19 cases.
The Ontario government announced on Monday that seven additional regions will be permitted to enter Phase 2 of the province’s phased reopening plan, joining 24 others that were allowed to open hair salons, restaurant and bar patios, and shopping malls last Friday.
But three remaining regions of the province – Canada’s largest city, the border city of Windsor, and Peel Region west of Toronto, which includes Mississauga and Brampton – will have to wait.
“We’re hoping very shortly that we’ll be able to open up the other regions,” Premier Doug Ford said on Monday. “It shouldn’t be much longer; we just ask people for their patience.”
The regions moving on to Phase 2 on Friday are: Durham, Haldimand-Norfolk, Halton, Hamilton, Lambton, Niagara and York.
Each Monday, the government said it will announce which regions can enter Stage 2 by Friday. Mr. Ford said opening Toronto by June 26 would be “ideal,” but it all depends on approval from local health officials and the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, David Williams.
The province also announced it is proposing regulatory changes to collect data about race, income, language and household size from people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and volunteer that information to paint a “more complete picture of the outbreak.”
Ontario on Monday reported 181 new daily cases of COVID-19, the lowest number since late March. There were eight new deaths.
Toronto added 85 new cases, Peel added 41, and all other regions reported fewer than 10 each, including many with no new cases.
Windsor-Essex reported seven new cases Monday and 26 the day before. Health Minister Christine Elliott said the region is “very close” to opening, but noted that a number of people in the community, including health professionals, cross the United States border for work.
The mayor of Windsor has called on the provincial government to mandate testing of migrant workers in Essex county, which has experienced outbreaks.
Although the final decision about reopening rested with the province, Toronto Mayor John Tory and Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, both called the move “reasonable.”
“We only want to go through this terrible experience once,” Mr. Tory said.
The number of new cases reported daily in Toronto has, for the most part, been falling for the past two weeks. But Dr. de Villa said reopening decisions shouldn’t rest on case counts alone.
“This is a complex situation and a complex undertaking that needs to be done carefully and needs to be done right,” Dr. de Villa said. She said Toronto Public Health is also keeping a close eye on the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital and the number of outbreaks in congregate settings, such as long-term care homes.
On Monday, researchers at Simon Fraser University told The Globe and Mail that Ontario as a whole remains close to the point where infection rates could start rising again, based on an unpublished analysis. However, data from the past week suggest that, so far, the province has avoided crossing that threshold and it may be backing away from it even as it proceeds with its phased reopening. While new cases continue to emerge, current measures are just enough to prevent infections from escalating out of control in most areas.
This improves on an earlier prognosis that did not include data from the past week, when Ontario’s case daily case counts dropped abruptly from about 400 cases a day, where it had been hovering for several weeks, to around 250 cases per day.
“If we re-estimate for June we do get a picture with more leeway [for Ontario], and that would correspond to a better looking forecast,” said Caroline Colijn, a professor of applied mathematics who led the work.
Jane Heffernan, a mathematician epidemiologist at York University in Toronto, said that she and her colleagues estimate that the reproduction rate of COVID-19 in Ontario is similar to Quebec and currently falls somewhere between 0.8 and 0.9 additional infections generated from each new case. A rate of less than one will produce a drop in case counts over time.
“I think that the downward trend is pretty stable and I hope that it will continue," she said.
With reports from Kelly Grant and The Canadian Press
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