Ontario Premier Doug Ford is poised to announce Friday whether Toronto, Peel Region and York Region will face stricter COVID-19 measures — or even a lockdown — as the count of new coronavirus cases continues its upward climb.
Ford’s cabinet meets each Friday to consider recommendations from Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams on changing the colour-coded restriction levels for each public health unit.
- Ford is scheduled to make the announcement at a news conference beginning at 3:30 p.m. at Queen’s Park. You can watch it live on cbc.ca/toronto.
As the week unfolded, Ford sent clear signals that stronger measures are looming for the three hardest-hit regions, all of which are currently in the red zone, one step short of lockdown.
“We’re looking at lockdown, if this continues, in Peel and Toronto and York,” Ford said Wednesday. “I keep seeing the numbers climb. We have to stop this.”
“We have some difficult but necessary decisions to make,” Ford said during his daily COVID-19 briefing Thursday. “Tomorrow, our government will release further public health restrictions. As it’s looking, these measures, they will have to be tough in the hardest-hit areas.”
Peel is by far the hardest hit region in the province, currently seeing 195 new cases weekly per 100,000 population — nearly five times higher than the province’s threshold of 40 for red-zone restrictions.
Toronto (with 112 new cases weekly per 100,000 population) and York Region (with 91) have also seen steady growth in COVID-19 infections since early September, despite the imposition of stricter pandemic measures along the way.
The province has not specified the infection rate threshold that would trigger a lockdown, nor has it stated exactly what would get locked down. When asked Thursday to describe the scale of the restrictions being considered, both Ford and Williams declined to reveal any specifics.
“As always, what we’re trying to do is to make sure we keep our numbers plateauing and coming down, and especially in the areas of rapid growth,” said Williams.
While Ford has been using the L-word, it’s far from certain that Peel, Toronto, and York will face the kind of lockdown Ontario ordered in March — with schools and all but essential businesses closed.
All the signs from Ford suggest he won’t be announcing plans to close schools in the hot zones.
“I’ve heard from numerous, numerous doctors, not to mention our health table [of medical advisers], that the safest place for our children right now is actually in the schools,” Ford said Thursday.
He also hinted that tackling transmission of COVID-19 in workplaces and social gatherings would be preferable to ordering a lockdown.
“We can’t afford to have workplaces that are unsafe or host large gatherings or parties because this virus spreads like wildfire,” said Ford. “It hurts your customers, it hurts your workers, and it hurts your community.”
Local officials in the hardest-hit areas have voiced support for stricter measures, but have stopped short of calling for a full-scale lockdown.
“I do think further closures and restrictions are warranted at this time,” Peel’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh told CBC News Network on Thursday.
Loh said he supports short-term measures that would “reduce the number of contacts and interactions” among people in the region, which includes the cities of Mississauga and Brampton.
Toronto Mayor John Tory is looking to the province to strengthen prevention measures.
“I support doing everything we can, based on public health advice, to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our city,” Tory said Wednesday.
York’s medical officer of health and with the regional municipality’s chair wrote to Ford on Thursday urging him not to impose a lockdown on the region, which includes Markham, Vaughan and other cities north of Toronto.
“We are confident we can continue to protect the health and well-being of residents and bring our case numbers down,” said the joint letter from Dr. Karim Kurji and Wayne Emmerson.
The letter committed to increased enforcement “in areas where we have issues with overcrowding and lack of physical distancing, including malls, big box outlets, grocery stores and banquet halls.”
All this comes with Ontario reporting hospitalization and death rates from COVID-19 higher than at anytime since June.
An internal report from Critical Care Services Ontario, obtained by CBC Toronto on Thursday, shows 150 patients with COVID-19 in hospital intensive care units. Health officials have said scheduled surgeries and procedures will likely need to be cancelled to keep space available in the ICUs once the number of COVID-19 patients exceeds 150.
So far this month, 307 people with COVID-19 have died, according to provincial figures.
If the province does resort to a form of lockdown, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is calling on the government to provide financial support to small businesses for costs such as rent and payroll.
She’s also renewed her call for a legislated minimum number of paid sick days for all Ontario workers, a measure that Ford’s government scrapped in 2018, shortly after taking power.
Changes could also be announced Friday to the restriction levels in other public health units around Ontario, depending on whether their infection rates have risen or fallen.
- The Region of Waterloo, currently under orange zone restrictions, could end up in the red zone as its weekly infection rate per 100,000 residents has reached 63, according to the latest figures from Public Health Ontario.
- Durham Region, also in orange, is showing a weekly infection rate approaching 53, which exceeds the threshold for the red zone.
- Among the seven public health units currently under yellow zone restrictions, the highest infection rate is in Huron-Perth (43), making it the most likely candidate for stricter measures.