Ontario has announced new restrictions under a “modified Stage 2” for Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa amid rising coronavirus cases.
The new measures, which are set to take effect on Saturday at 12:01 a.m., include the closure of indoor dining and drink service at restaurants, bars and nightclubs, as well as the closure of indoor gyms, casinos, cinemas, and performing arts centres.
Personal care services where face coverings have to be removed must also discontinue operations. Interactive exhibits in places like galleries or museums must close.
Gathering limits at organized public events, real estate open houses, meeting and event spaces, tour and guide services, and in-person teaching events will be limited to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors. Team sports will be limited to training sessions only.
Wedding receptions must follow those capacity limits beginning on Tuesday.
The measures are set to last for at least 28 days.
Unmonitored social gatherings continue to be limited to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors where physical distancing can be maintained.
Schools and places of worship will remain open.
“All trends are going in the wrong direction. Left unchecked, we risk worst-case scenarios first seen in Italy and New York City,” Premier Doug Ford said during a press conference Friday.
“If current trends continue, Ontario ICU (intensive care unit) admissions are predicted to more than triple in less than 30 days. Our hospitals will be overwhelmed and we can’t let this happen.”
The province’s top doctors sounded the alarm on Friday.
“The curve continues to increase in terms of its steepness,” Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, said during a press conference at Queen’s Park.
“We are seeing a dramatic growth in the per cent of tests that are positive. …
“At this point of growth in the epidemic curve, there is not the opportunity to either test more or contact trace more as a way to control or suppress the epidemic. At this point, it really requires public health interventions to break that chain of transmission and allow the numbers to come back down.”
Brown said Ontario is starting to parallel a worst-case modelling scenario.
Brown said according to Toronto figures, the lowest source of outbreaks was actually in schools and said coronavirus transmission in schools is “relatively staying under control.”
Officials said a significant amount of outbreaks have occurred in workplaces and community settings like restaurants, bars, nightclubs and gyms.
Hospitalizations have increased by 250 per cent over the past three weeks, with a total of 225 people hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Thursday.
Officials said the province’s health-care system is on track to exceed the threshold where it can maintain regular services like scheduled surgeries, even in best-case scenarios.
Cases are starting to spread to older populations after the initial surge in growth that was seen in those aged 20 to 29, officials added.
Calls to limit non-essential travel
Dr. David Williams, the province’s chief medical officer of health, is calling on all Ontarians to limit trips outside of their homes except for essential purposes including school, grocery shopping, medical appointments, and outdoor physical activities.
“In addition, travel to other regions in the province, especially from higher transmission to lower transmission areas, should only be for essential purposes,” a government statement read.
Williams said “these type of steps and public health measures would not have been necessary” had all Ontarians followed public health guidelines.
Other areas around the Greater Toronto area are “moving up” and the new restrictions could be imposed elsewhere as well, Williams said.
The new restrictions came one week after Dr. Eileen de Villa of Toronto Public Health called for indoor dining and gyms to be temporarily closed in the city, among other measures. Williams said earlier this week he was still considering the request.
When asked what changed since de Villa’s initial request, Williams said the province recently received more data and has observed higher daily case counts. Ford echoed Williams’ comments.
Ontario reported a record 939 new coronavirus cases on Friday, up from the previous record of 797 on Thursday. Friday’s report indicated 336 new cases were recorded in Toronto, 150 in Peel Region, and 126 in Ottawa.
Property tax, hydro bills to be waived for small businesses
“I can’t stress this enough — on how difficult, how painful it was to make this decision,” Ford said.
“My heart just breaks for these folks and I understand what this decision means to each and every one of you and I can tell you I didn’t sleep last night. Believe me, this weighs heavy on me for making this decision.”
Ford said he has directed his finance minister to make $300 million available to support small businesses for 28 days, including waiving provincial and municipal property tax bills as well as hydro and natural gas bills.
The premier said more information on that initiative will be released in the coming days.
Provincial officials said they hope the targeted measures will help prevent further restrictions from being implemented in the future.