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Shoppers walk in Fairview Mall, in Toronto, on Oct. 13, 2020.

NICHOLA SAMINATHER/Reuters

The Ontario government’s new colour-coded COVID-19 reopening framework, which loosens pandemic rules in some virus hot spots even as infections shoot upward, is forcing hard-hit areas to impose restrictions of their own.

Toronto officials expressed alarm on Monday at the city’s record 504 new daily infections, saying they were looking to follow nearby Peel Region and add an extra layer of local restrictions to the province’s new graduated regime. The new system would put the city in a category that allows indoor dining in restaurants to resume and gyms to reopen this weekend.

The system is already in effect across the province and in other virus hot spots, Ottawa, Peel and York Regions, where rising case numbers forced a crackdown last month.

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Soaring COVID-19 infections expose frayed Canadian response

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford suggested on Monday that Toronto, like Peel, would be placed in the province’s highest level of restrictions, colour-coded red, meaning restaurants and gyms can open, but with a limit of 10 patrons at a time. His office later said a final decision would be made no later than Friday.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said he and Medical Officer of Health Eileen de Villa would announce their own added restrictions on Tuesday, before the weekend’s expected reopening. They would not say what measures they are considering. Mr. Tory said city and public health officials were consulting lawyers about the extent of Dr. de Villa’s and the city’s powers and were still in talks with the province.

Lawrence Loh, the Medical Officer of Health in Peel, to the west of Toronto – so far the only region classified “Red” or “Control,” which has the strictest measures short of a full lockdown – added his own restrictions last week. Infection rates in Peel have climbed rapidly, and hospitals have sounded alarms as they transfer patients elsewhere and cancel elective surgery to make room for those with COVID-19.

Dr. Loh’s added measures include closing banquet halls and prohibiting wedding receptions until next year. They also include “strong recommendations” for people to dine in restaurants only with members of their own household, and not to visit anyone else’s home. Places of worship must also cap services at 50 people, instead of the province’s limit of 30 per cent of a building’s capacity.

Dr. de Villa said she was examining the moves in Peel and other jurisdictions across Canada. She said the recent rise in Toronto’s rate of infections is the most concerning since the pandemic began.

“I don’t think the current case counts points us toward relaxing the roadblocks we’re putting up in front of the virus," Dr. de Villa said, urging Torontonians to avoid close contact with anyone outside their households.

At his daily briefing with reporters, the Premier suggested that Toronto, like Peel, would be a red zone. But he also said Dr. de Villa is welcome to add her own restrictions, and that he supported Dr. Loh’s moves in Peel.

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"Dr. de Villa has the authority and the power to change things if she’s not comfortable in the red zone, as we call it, and we’ll respect her decision,” said Mr. Ford, who pledged to work collaboratively with the city.

But he stood fast against the notion of more shutdowns, saying that cases were also rising in other jurisdictions and that he has been bombarded with calls from small business owners facing financial ruin.

“I think it would be a worse disaster if we just shut everything down,” Mr. Ford said.

Earlier Monday, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott announced new testing centres and the launch of new mobile testing in Peel, while pledging more staff to help public health workers there track down and isolate those who have had contact with people who test positive for COVID-19.

Overall, Ontario said it had 1,242 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, with 12 new deaths.

Dr. Loh said while the situation in Peel is “increasingly dire,” his approach is designed to fill local gaps in a framework meant to apply across Ontario.

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He also said that except for the ban on wedding receptions until Jan. 7, he will review the other restrictions every two weeks and that he hopes to see current chains of transmission “burn out” within two to four weeks.

“We are not cancelling December holidays at this point in time,” Dr. Loh said.

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca accused Mr. Ford of putting people’s lives at risk by forcing regions to step up their own restrictions.

“Hospitals in Peel are overcrowded and crying out for help, but Doug Ford isn’t listening,” Mr. Del Duca said.

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