TORONTO — Ontario announced stricter health measures for York Region on Friday in an effort contain what the province is calling an “alarming” surge in COVID-19 cases in that area.
Premier Doug Ford said the region will be moved back into a modified Stage 2 of the province’s pandemic plan, which bars indoor service in restaurants, closes gyms and movie theatres, and restricts public gatherings to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.
The tighter measures take effect Monday and will be in place for 28 days.
“I hate doing this,” Ford said in announcing the restrictions on Friday. “We just have to stop the spread.”
The announcement comes a week after Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa were placed under similar restrictions amid rising cases.
Most regions entered Stage 2, which placed restrictions on non-essential businesses, in June and progressed to Stage 3 in July, though a few were slower to move through the stages. Nearly all businesses and public spaces were allowed to reopen in Stage 3, with health measures in place.
Last month, the province said it was pausing any further reopening of businesses and facilities.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said Friday there has been an “alarming upward trend” in cases in York Region recently, and evidence of community spread that requires stronger public health intervention.
The number of hospitalizations in the region due to COVID-19 has also doubled in the last week, and the number of patients requiring an intensive care bed rose to 72 from 63, the province said.
“We sincerely hope that we don’t have to do it in any of the other regions,” Elliott said, adding the province is currently looking at Halton Region.
York Region’s chairman and CEO, Wayne Emmerson, and its medical officer of health, Dr. Karim Kurji, issued a joint statement urging residents to abide by the new rules.
“While this is not the news any of us wanted to hear, it is a grim reminder the virus is still a threat to the 1.2 million people who call York Region home,” the pair said in the statement.
“It also serves as a signal we all must continue taking steps to keep each other, our families and our communities safe.”
Critics, however, said the move is evidence the province failed to take the necessary steps to prepare for the second wave of the pandemic.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the Ford government has been “waiting until things are far down the road” before taking action, and sending mixed messages as to what’s expected of residents.
She pointed to the province’s decision to wait until after the weekend to impose the new restrictions on York Region, when the other three areas where given less than 12 hours notice.
“What’s the message, that the weekend is now available...for people to get out there?” she said.
When asked about the discrepancy, Ford said his government wanted to give restaurants a few days to deplete their food inventory before the new rules take effect. But he stressed it was not meant to spur indoor dining over the weekend.
“I’m encouraging people to order takeout, but we’ve got to be fair (to the restaurants),” he said.
Ontario reported 712 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, along with nine new deaths related to the novel coronavirus.
Elliott says 213 of the new cases are in Toronto, 135 are in Peel Region, 108 are in Ottawa and 62 are in York Region.
The province now has a total of 62,908 cases of COVID-19, including 54,004 that are considered resolved and 3,031 deaths.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 16, 2020.