TORONTO — Bars and restaurants across Ontario will shut down earlier and all strip clubs will close, Premier Doug Ford announced Friday, saying the new rules were needed to fight a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Ford said the latest restrictions would help reduce transmission in high-risk businesses.
Bars and restaurants will now be required to close at midnight, except for takeout and delivery, and will have to stop serving alcohol by 11 p.m.
“We’ve seen doubling in cases in a very short period of time and it’s very, very concerning,” Ford said. “There’s been outbreaks and ... we just can’t chance it.”
Some mayors in the Greater Toronto Area had requested similar measures for weeks, and Ford had initially resisted taking action, saying municipalities had the power to impose restrictions on businesses under public health regulations if they wanted to.
On Friday, however, Ford said a change was necessary.
“We just can’t have these places open until three o’clock in the morning,” he said. “But we’re being very balanced, I feel.”
The new rules follow a decision by the province last week to change limits on social gatherings, lowering the number of people permitted at outdoor events to 25 and indoor events to 10.
A spokesman for Restaurants Canada said Friday that the government had not shown that organization any data to backup the restrictions, but the businesses will continue to do their part to fight the pandemic.
James Rilett, the group’s vice-president of Central Canada, said the new restrictions would have a detrimental impact on night clubs and bars, many of which are already struggling to survive.
“It will have an incredibly bad impact on some restaurants at a time where you have historic debt loads and you’re starting to close down outdoor patios,” he said.
Province must do more: opposition
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said with the new restrictions on bars and restaurants in place the province must offer some financial support.
“I feel for owners and employees who will be affected by these new restrictions,” he said in a statement. ”(They) must be accompanied by help for small businesses to stay afloat during a second wave.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the Ford government has let COVID-19 infections rise by delaying putting new public health measures in place.
“We are teetering on another health and economic disaster because this government has not been listening, and not been acting,” she said in a statement.
Ford also announced Friday that the province will spend an additional $741 million to help clear a backlog of surgeries that has developed at Ontario hospitals during the pandemic.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the funds will help the health-care system to build more capacity to manage surges in COVID-19 cases and outbreaks.
“We are working directly with our health-care partners to ensure our ... system is ready to respond to the challenges that we face with future waves of COVID-19,” she said.
Pandemic straining health-care resources
The president of the Ontario Hospital Association warned Friday that the pandemic is straining health-care resources across the province and further action will be needed to respond to rising case rates.
Anthony Dale said currently hospitals are running assessment centres, processing COVID-19 tests, helping manage some long-term care homes, working to cut the surgical backlogs and handling their normal operations.
“Any serious wave of COVID-19 means that it will be impossible for hospitals to continue all those roles at once, full stop,” he said. “And the only way to keep hospitals functioning in the way that the public wants and expects is to help stop the spread of COVID-19.”
Dale urged people across the province to follow basic health guidelines like practising physical distancing, hand-washing and wearing a mask to stop the rise in case numbers.
“I think it’s about helping people understand that things have changed, and change very quickly, in just a little under two weeks,” he said. “And we don’t have much time at all.”
Ontario reported 409 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, and one new death related to the virus.
The province said it processed 41,865 tests over the previous day, with another 65,227 under investigation.
Meanwhile, Toronto’s top public health official ordered four hospitality businesses to close on Friday.
The businesses were flouting public health protocols and evading investigators, Dr. Eileen de Villa said, adding that some were pressuring staff to work, even when sick.
The businesses, whose names she did not share because the operation to shut them down was not yet complete, will be allowed to reopen once the city is satisfied they’ll follow the rules.
Also in Toronto, officials declared an outbreak at Glen Park Public School in North York — the city’s first school-based outbreak — after two students tested positive for the virus.
Two class cohorts — one with 17 children and the other with 18 — were sent home to self-isolate for 14 days, as was one staff member, de Villa said.
“All steps have been followed as expected in a situation of this nature,” she said.
“One of the realities of living in a world with COVID-19 is that there will be cases in schools. Today’s news is expected. I expect there will be similar announcements in future and you can be confident the steps developed to manage the situation and reduce the risk of spread will be followed.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2020.
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