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Middlesex-London Health Unit moving to red-control level March 30

View image in full screen Ambulances sit in front of the emergency department at Victoria Hospital on Nov. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Robins

The Middlesex-London Health Unit will be moving to the red-control level from the orange-restrict level of the province’s COVID-19 response framework.

Medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie says this is the region’s last chance to avoid “a significant lockdown.”

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“If we want to avoid a lockdown where businesses, restaurants are significantly hampered, closed and inaccessible, now is the only chance,” he said.

“No level of restriction will control the spread of COVID if people aren’t complying with it and keeping their distance, avoiding indoor gatherings, wearing masks, etc.”

The change takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, March 30.

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According to the province, the sudden move to red from orange was requested by Mackie “due to concerning trends in public health indicators in the region.”

Mackie said Monday that data made available over the weekend demonstrated the urgent need for stronger restrictions.

“When the province was making the decision last week, we had none of this data available. At the time they decided we had had rates that were still continuing on at the high orange level. That really changed over the weekend and that’s why this change will be implemented tonight.”

A graph showing daily case counts since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. via Middlesex-London Health Unit

Over the weekend, the MLHU reported 46 cases on Saturday and 78 on Sunday – the largest daily case count reported since 82 cases were reported Jan. 19.

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Two outbreaks at Western University residences, Saugeen-Maitland and Ontario halls, were declared on Saturday. An outbreak at Essex Hall declared March 2 remains active.

Mackie said Monday that cases associated with Western University account for roughly 20 per cent “of our overall community problem.”

“But there are problems throughout our community with people gathering indoors.”

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From March 22 to 28, the province says the case rate in the MLHU’s jurisdiction increased by 86.9 per cent to 64.4 cases per 100,000 people.

“Based on the current situation in the Middlesex-London area, it was decided that stronger public health measures were urgently needed to help ensure the continued health and safety of people in the region,” said Dr. David Williams, chief medical officer of health.

“As we continue to see some alarming trends in health indicators across the province all Ontarians are urged to remain vigilant and follow all public health and workplace safety measures to minimize further transmission.”

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Mackie says the health unit has seen “dramatic increases” in the rates of COVID-19 cases diagnosed and in the rates of variants of concern in the community since mid-February.

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“There are essentially two pandemics happening at the same time now.”

Full details of restrictions in place under the red-control level can be found on the province’s website, but the measures include limiting social gatherings where physical distancing can be maintained to five people indoors and 25 outdoors.

For food and drink establishments, indoor capacity limits are set to the lesser of either 50 per cent capacity or 50 people.

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For sports and recreation facilities, spacing between patrons where there are weights/exercise equipment and in exercise/fitness classes must be increased to three metres. Capacity limits include 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors.

For retail, stores that primarily sell groceries as well as convenience stores and pharmacies are permitted 75 per cent capacity. All other retail stores are limited to 50 per cent capacity.

For personal care services, services that require face coverings to be removed are not permitted at all.

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