Ontario Premier Doug Ford is rejecting calls for indoor dining to be ordered closed at restaurants in some areas of the province amid rising coronavirus cases, saying there isn’t enough evidence to make such a decision.
“We need the data and I always make a judgment (that’s) evidence-based,” Ford said during a press conference Monday.
“For any region that’s seeing a spike, be it Ottawa, Toronto … York and Peel, and if there’s a request to shut down restaurants, I have to sit back and look at evidence.”
On Friday, Toronto medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa called for the province to, among other measures, temporarily ban indoor dining at bars and restaurants in the city in a bid to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario and a group of doctors who released a joint statement are among those who have also called for those measures.
Ontario has seen a spike in cases in recent weeks, with most of them occurring in Toronto, neighbouring Peel Region, and Ottawa.
“The city is at risk of experiencing exponential growth of COVID-19 infections,” de Villa warned in her letter Friday.
She said that between Sept. 20 and 26, there were 45 active community outbreaks, 44 per cent of which were in restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues.
Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said Monday that he had been in contact with De Villa about her requests and was still in the process of reviewing them.
Williams noted that the province implemented new restrictions on bars and restaurants in Toronto, Peel Region, and Ottawa over the weekend, including lower capacity limits, limiting tables to six people, and earlier closing times.
He said he wants to see what impact that has on cases in those settings and also noted that the province must consider any adverse effects before deciding to close indoor dining.
Williams said the premier has been looking for evidence that patrons have contracted the virus at restaurants or bars, but has only seen outbreaks involving staff members interacting with each other. He said there hasn’t been evidence that the establishments are contributing to outbreaks in the community.
Williams noted that when there were increases in outbreaks in different settings like private homes, strip clubs, and bars operating at late hours, they reacted by introducing targeted restrictions.
“I look at the command table that is made up with a lot of bright, bright doctors and also public officials are sitting around there, and I can’t see the evidence,” Ford said.
“These are people that have put their life in these small restaurants and they have put everything they had. … I have to see the evidence before I take someone’s livelihood away from them and shut their lives down. That’s a huge, huge decision that weighs on my shoulders and our team’s shoulders and it’s tough.”
Ford said the “vast majority” of restaurants are following health and safety protocols including ensuring physical distancing.
“We’ve asked the Minister of Labour to ramp up the inspections to these restaurants and we’re going to go after the bad actors and we’re going to shut the bad actors down,” Ford said.
De Villa was asked about Ford’s comments Monday afternoon. She said she hasn’t spoken directly to Ford, but has been in touch with Williams.
“Certainly in my conversation with Dr. Williams, it’s been clear,” De Villa said. “We are very happy to continue to provide the information that the province needs to understand what’s happening here on the frontline. Here … at the local level.”
De Villa said there are real concerns with regards to restaurants and bars in Toronto.
“There are certain conditions that make the likelihood of transmission higher, that actually create the conditions that give rise to COVID-19 or make it easy, let’s say, for COVID-19 to spread,” she said.
“We have seen exposures within the context of bars and restaurants — closed, indoor settings — where you have many people together gathered in a way where … it can be difficult to physically distance and it’s certainly difficult to wear a mask as the activity involves eating and drinking.”
De Villa said she has spoken to legal counsel and it does not appear that she has the authority to implement a ban on indoor dining herself under current legislation, hence why she is asking the province.
“Anytime they have made a request for data, we have provided it,” she noted.
Ford said that if there comes a time when he and his health table deem it necessary to close down restaurants and bars, he’ll do it “in 10 seconds.”
“I want to exhaust every single avenue before I ruin someone’s life,” he said.
“It’s easy to go in there and say I’m just shutting down everything. Show me the evidence.”