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Halton officials call for ‘targeted’ approach as province considers new COVID-19 restrictions

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WATCH: Restaurants in Halton Region could face indoor dining closures if the premier decides to move the region back to a modified Stage 2. Mayors and MPPs are calling on the government to look closely at the data and adopt a more targeted approach, focusing on the areas where COVID-19 is most pervasive. Katherine Ward reports. – Oct 24, 2020

Officials in Halton Region are calling on the province to consider a “targeted approach, backed by conclusive data” as opposed to blanket closures across the region as the province looks at possibly implementing new restrictions to curb COVID-19 infections.

The region’s four mayors and regional chair sent an open letter to Premier Doug Ford on Saturday.

“A blanket approach that unfairly punishes small businesses with no explanation will hurt our local economy and impact buy-in from our residents,” the letter read.

Read more: Ontario reports record number of new coronavirus cases

“A more measured approach would be for the province to provide guidance and specifically target sources of community spread. It is the same rationale that has been applied to keeping schools open and only closing individual schools with multiple infections instead of closing down an entire school district.”

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On Friday, Ford was asked about Halton Region possibly moving to “modified Stage 2,” which has already been implemented in Peel and York regions, as well as Toronto and Ottawa.

Modified Stage 2 includes the closure of indoor dining and drink service, indoor gyms and cinemas, casinos, 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.

“We’re going to have that discussion. It’s very concerning out in Halton,” Ford said.

“I had a good discussion with the mayors out in Halton as well. You know, we’re going to have to discuss that over the weekend and we’ll have that answer on Monday.”

However, the letter penned by Halton officials said the “majority of businesses” in the region have been following health guidelines.

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“They should not be punished under a blanket shutdown order,” the letter read.

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“Some businesses have invested thousands of dollars at a time of declining revenue to acquire personal protection equipment and modify their space in order to provide a safe environment for their employees and customers.”

The letter added that Halton residents are “reasonable” and would support any “evidence-based decision.”

Ontario reported a total of 978 new coronavirus cases on Saturday marking the biggest single-day increase on record. Of those, Halton had 21.

2nd letter sent to Dr. Williams

Meanwhile, a second letter was sent to the province’s chief medical officer of health on Saturday, signed by the mayor of Milton, mayor of Burlington, the regional chair, as well as two local Progressive Conservative MPPs.

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The letter to Dr. David Williams stated that the rate of infection in Halton has actually been declining in recent days and is below the provincial average. It also said that the region has “significant hospital capacity” as hospitalization numbers are low.

“Even with our numbers continuing to decline, we understand that Halton’s medical officer of health is pushing to move Halton Region back to [Stage] 2 next week, in line with Peel, Toronto, York and Ottawa,” the letter said.

Read more: Sunnybrook hospital in Toronto declares COVID-19 outbreak in surgical unit

“Now, nearly seven months [into the pandemic] the public is demanding more than just the blanket statement of ‘on the advice of medical experts.’ In fact, without providing specific justification for implementing new restrictions, there is legitimate concern that people will start to ignore public health advice.”

The province should target specific activities and locations instead of blanket measures and sending Halton Region into modified Stage 2, the letter said.

It also argued that measures already implemented within the region have been effective, including restrictions on the use of municipal facilities for sports and fitness and requests that people from hot spots avoid non-essential travel to the area.

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Ivana Yelich, a spokesperson for Premier Ford, responded to the letter in a statement.

“While the numbers in Halton are concerning, we are working very hard to control the spread of the virus as much as possible,” Yelich said.

Read more: Elections Canada taking coronavirus precautions for Toronto Centre, York Centre byelections

“In consultation with our partners, we continue to review trends from a range of criteria on an ongoing basis to ensure swift action to limit the transmission of COVID-19 … These include COVID-19 spread and containment, public health capacity to conduct rapid case and contact management, the type and setting of outbreaks, incidence tracking, increases in hospitalization and ICU admission, and testing capacity.”

Yelich said the provincial government will “continue to provide a clear account of the data and evidence” if a region is moved into modified Stage 2.

At his Friday press conference, Ford was also asked about Durham Region.

“We’re going to discuss all the different regions that we see a little escalation in the cases,” Ford said.

Of Saturday’s 978 cases, Durham had 51.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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