TORONTO — Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced new restrictions in regions hit hard by COVID-19 Friday, but resisted calls from some local officials to go further.
“Earlier this week, we received a real wake-up call,” Ford said at his daily Queen’s Park press conference. “We saw from the modelling update that if we don’t act now to halt these trends, we could see 1,000 new cases a day by mid-October.”
Ontario reported 732 new cases of COVID-19 Friday, a new record. There are active outbreaks in 318 schools and 44 long-term care homes.
Ford said that masks will be mandatory on public transit, in stores and at workplaces where social distancing isn’t possible, everywhere in Ontario starting Saturday.
He also said there would be new restrictions on areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases: Ottawa, Toronto and Peel Region.
In Ottawa and Peel, restaurants and bars must seat no more than six people to a table and serve a maximum of 100 customers at a time. Toronto has already said it will limit restaurants and bars to serving a maximum of 75 customers at a time with six to a table, Ford noted.
Banquet halls must also sit no more than six people to a table and limit the number of people in the facility to 50. Gyms will have to limit occupancy to 50 people and 10 per fitness class.
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“These measures will help us protect each other. There is a lot at stake,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said.
Public health officials in Ottawa and Toronto have asked for stricter rules, however.
Ottawa’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said the city has “entered crisis territory,” at a video teleconference Friday.
“This is our warning bell … and if we do not slow the transmission, it will lead to stricter lockdown, closure of businesses, public venues, even schools.”
She said Ottawans should only have close contact with people in their household and one or two other “essential” people like caregivers. With anyone else, they should wear a mask and maintain distance, she said.
“Please, if you have plans to gather with friends or acquaintances this weekend, I’m asking you to reconsider.”
Toronto’s medical officer of health also had a dire warning.
“We have seen in other places what happens when COVID-19 gains the upper hand,” Dr. Eileen de Villa said in a press release. “Without quick action to implement further public health measures, there is an acute risk the virus will continue to spread widely, causing serious illness, stressing the health care system and further straining Toronto’s economy.”
She asked Ford’s government to end indoor dining at restaurants, tell the public only to leave their homes for essential trips, stop all indoor group fitness classes and sports and force event venues to submit plans for how they’ll comply with public health measures.
Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, said he had spoken with Dr. de Villa about her recommendations but did not say whether or not he would act on them.
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In a press release, the province did say it was “pausing” social circles and recommending that Ontarians only have close contact with people in their household.
At the press conference, though, Ford and other officials said people have flexibility and should rely on their own judgement.
“We’re asking people to be reasonable. Please try to keep your group, your gathering, small, to immediate households as much as possible,” Elliott said.
Households will not have “any tight definition” but should be smaller and more focused than the circles people have been socializing with lately, Dr. Williams said.
The government also said it would make changes at COVID-19 testing centres. Saturday will be the last day for walk-in testing, after which, testing will only be done by appointment.
Matt Andersen, CEO of Ontario Health, said this will cut down wait times for results, allow the province to focus on testing the most vulnerable people, and ensure that people “don’t stand in line for five hours only to find out they’re not eligible for a test.”
Ford also said this would help cut down the backlog of tests that are being processed, which now stands at 90,513.
With files from Sherina Harris and The Canadian Press