Ontario announces new COVID-19 restrictions amid surge

ONTARIO – Ontario announced stricter measures today (Oct. 9) in three major areas including Ottawa, Toronto and the Peel Region in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 as the case count surges higher.

The measures, which go into effect tomorrow (Oct. 10), include prohibiting indoor dining at restaurants and bars, and closing gyms, movie theatres and casinos.

The government is also asking people in those areas to leave their homes for essential purposes only.

Schools and child-are centres will remain open as part of the plan.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams says there hasn’t been evidence of a lot of transmission within schools as yet. In many cases, the virus has entered schools from outside the community, he said, but that hasn’t happened in a uniform way across the province.

A large-scale shut down of schools is “not merited at this time,” he said.

The new restrictions come as Ontario marked a record 939 new cases of COVID-19 today, most of them in the three previously mentioned areas. Those regions have consistently reported the majority of new cases in recent weeks.

The government said if current trends continue, the province could experience “worst-case scenarios” seen in northern Italy and New York City earlier in the pandemic.

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said the sharp increase in daily case numbers was “very concerning” and action was required, particularly in settings where mask-wearing and physical distancing is more difficult.

Williams said the new measures will take the three hot spot regions back to a “modified Stage Two” of the province’s pandemic response plan, which saw restrictions on non-essential businesses earlier this year. 

He said if people return to following public health guidelines well, the province can once again flatten the curve.

“We’ve done this before, I think we can do it again,” he said.

Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, a provincial advisor on its pandemic response, said taking the targeted action could mean avoiding broader province-wide restrictions down the road.

“Jurisdictions that are intervening early are getting better control of the pandemic,” he said.

It is the second day in a row the province is seeing record-breaking daily figures, trumping the previous record of 797 set Thursday. Doctors are also sounding the alarm about an increased number of COVID-19 patients being admitted to intensive care units.

Friday’s update prompted Premier Doug Ford’s cabinet to hold an emergency meeting to consider tighter public health measures to try to contain the spread of the coronavirus. 

The increase is consistent with modelling from epidemiologists who forecast last month that Ontario’s second wave of the pandemic was accelerating at a pace that put the province on track to hit 1,000 new cases per day by mid-October. 

Toronto, Peel, and Ottawa continue to account for the majority of the province’s daily figures, with 336, 150, and 126 cases respectively, Health Minister Christine Elliott said on social media.

Other areas that saw double-digit increases include:

  • Halton Region: 59
  • Simcoe-Muskoka: 28
  • Durham Region: 32
  • Hamilton: 40
  • Middlesex-London: 24
  • Waterloo Region: 13
  • York Region: 68
  • Windsor-Essex: 18
  • Niagara Region: 10
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 16

Friday’s update brings the province’s total to 57,681 cases of the virus since the outbreak began in late January. There are 225 patients currently hospitalized in Ontario, a significant increase from yesterday’s figure of 206. However, the number of patients admitted to intensive care has remained the same at 47, and the number of patients on a ventilator sits at 29.

An additional 724 cases of COVID-19 are now considered resolved, bringing the province’s total number of resolved cases to 49,032.

For Stage 2 of Ontario’s reopening plan, which was in place during May and June, bars and restaurants were banned from seating customers indoors, cinemas and gyms were closed and schools remained shut. 

The Ontario Hospital Association urged the province on Sept. 28 to put the GTA and Ottawa back to Stage 2, with restriction on indoor dining and bars, places of worship, weddings, gyms, movie theatres and other non-essential businesses.   

The province’s COVID-19 testing system is also under strain, with appointments at assessment centres in the hardest-hit areas leaving some people having to wait days to get tested. The Ministry of Health last week changed the criteria to get a test, limiting eligibility primarily to people with symptoms of COVID-19 or those who’ve been exposed to a confirmed case. 

Nearly one-10th of Ontario’s 4,800 publicly-funded schools have reported cases of COVID-19, and a similar proportion of the 630 long-term care homes in the province are battling outbreaks of the coronavirus.