Top officials in York Region are pleading with the Ontario government not to place the Toronto-area municipality into a lockdown, saying the province needs to keep as many businesses open as possible.
In a letter sent Thursday to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, the chairman and top public-health official in York say existing control measures there are likely to work and they are “confident” they can bring COVID-19 case numbers down, although it may require stricter rules for stores to ensure physical distancing.
“Our small businesses in York Region – as is the case right across Ontario – continue to do everything asked of them to stay open and keep their customers, themselves and their families safe. We all need to stand up for them and keep as many businesses open as much as possible,” says the letter, signed by chairman and chief executive officer Wayne Emmerson and Medical Officer of Health Karim Kurji.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott and provincial Chief Medical Officer of Health David Williams are also copied on the letter.
On Thursday, York’s regional council supported Dr. Kurji’s recommendation to request the province “not place York Region in a lockdown zone at this time.”
Mr. Ford and his cabinet met on Thursday to decide on potentially sweeping new COVID-19 restrictions for Toronto and the neighbouring regions of York and Peel, warning of a possible “lockdown” as infections and deaths rise. A decision is to be announced on Friday, after his cabinet votes on recommendations from Dr. Williams.
Toronto, York and Peel are already among the regions in the province’s “red zone,” with the highest restrictions short of a lockdown under the government’s colour-coded COVID-19 framework. In talks with other regions and the province, Toronto, which has added its own bans on indoor dining and fitness classes, has called for Ontario to bring in even stricter measures, including restrictions on retailers.
In the letter, Mr. Emmerson and Dr. Kurji say York is prepared to increase police and bylaw enforcement in areas of overcrowding such as malls, big-box outlets, grocery stores and banquet halls.
“As has been implemented for restaurants and bars, we support the province’s consideration of additional measures to ensure proper distancing and further measures … in establishments such as malls, large outlets and banquet halls,” the letter says. It does not expand on what the additional measures would be.
The letter says a majority of businesses are complying with current public-health measures, and the public demonstrates “exceptionally high levels of compliance” with efforts such as wearing masks in public spaces. They say the three hospitals in the region “have not seen evidence of capacity strains that would warrant further lockdown measures.” Outbreaks in schools are manageable, they add.
York includes the municipalities of Markham, Vaughan, Richmond Hill and Newmarket. Peel includes the cities of Mississauga and Brampton, which is seeing high positivity rates.
Ontario on Thursday reported 1,210 new cases of COVID-19, including 361 in Peel, 346 in Toronto and 143 in York. There were 28 deaths across the province.
The Ontario Hospital Association said Thursday that 150 COVID-19 patients were now in the province’s intensive-care units, a level at which officials have warned could mean some other surgeries would have to be cancelled.
Mr. Ford warned Thursday that whatever action his government takes would be significant.
“As it’s looking, these measures, they will have to be tough in the hardest-hit areas,” said Mr. Ford, who also announced a COVID-19 enforcement blitz aimed at workplaces on Thursday. “We’re seeing concerning trends. Our hospital ICUs are in jeopardy. Our long-term care homes are at risk. We have some difficult but necessary decisions to make.”
Neither the Premier nor Ms. Elliott would say Thursday what proposed measures are up for discussion. The Health Minister said the government’s priority was to keep schools open.
She also said the government was adding hospital beds and that hospitals would seek to minimize cancelled surgeries by moving patients from COVID-strained hospitals to others with more capacity.
Ms. Elliott said the restrictions already imposed in the hardest-hit areas were not stemming the tide of the virus: “We are not seeing any flattening of the curve. The numbers are continuing to rise quite rapidly.”
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