The Ford government is placing Toronto and Peel under the “lockdown” category in its tiered framework for COVID-19 restrictions, ordering the closure of gyms, recreation facilities and personal care services while also limiting all non-essential retail stores to curbside pickup only.
The new restrictions were announced by Premier Doug Ford during a press conference at Queen’s Park on Friday afternoon.
Starting Monday at 12:01 a.m., in-person shopping will be prohibited in Toronto and Peel with exceptions for essential retailers such as supermarkets, hardware stores, convenience stores, pharmacies and beer and liquor stores, all of which will now face a 50 per cent capacity limit.
Meanwhile, bar and restaurants will continue to be permitted to provide takeout or delivery services in those regions under a lockdown but they will no longer be allowed to serve customers on their premises, even if it is on a patio.
The Ford government is also prohibiting all organized gatherings and social events indoors “except with members of the same household” and is introducing a strict new 10-person capacity limit for places of worship that were previously allowed to fill their venues to 30 per cent capacity.
The gathering limit for outdoor events will also be reduced from 25 to 10 for regions in the lockdown tier.
“The situation is extremely serious and further action is required to avoid the worst case scenario,” Ford said in making the announcement. “We cannot put in-class learning at risk, we can’t risk widespread outbreaks in our long-term care homes, we cannot risk overwhelming our hospitals. To protect our most vulnerable and protect what matters most we have to get the community spread under control.”
The Ford government’s decision to move Toronto and Peel into the lockdown category comes a week after the release of new modelling, which suggested that Ontario could see 6,500 new cases a day by mid-December.
It also comes one day after the number of COVID patients in Ontario’s ICUs hit 150, a critical point that many health officials have said will result in some hospitals cancelling elective surgeries and procedures.
Speaking with reporters, Ford said that we are “now teetering on the edge of having to delay surgeries” due to the influx of COVID patients with some hospitals having already taken that extreme step.
He said with the virus now spreading “like wildfire,” it was time for “further action.”
The alternative, he said, was “more deaths and more losses.”
It should be noted that the weekly incidence rate in Peel Region is now four times the province’s threshold for moving regions into the less restrictive red category and in Toronto it is two-and-a-half times that line.
“I know this is difficult news today, it is not where we want to be but I have faith that Ontario will weather through this storm together,” Ford said. “Please look out for each other. Please stick together. Because in this darkest hour we see what we're made of, we see what we can endure and we will endure, we will preserve and we will get though this.”
Schools and childcare to remain open
The new restrictions that will be put into place in Toronto and Peel will require that the vast majority of businesses either close or significantly alter their operations for a period of at least 28 days, reminiscent of the first wave of the pandemic this past spring.
But this time around school and childcare centres will remain open.
Most businesses will also continue to operate in other parts of the GTA, though officials are discouraging residents in Peel and Toronto from travelling outside of their communities strictly for the purpose of accessing stores and amenities.
“We do have the concern that people will now kind of migrate and there will be issues faced in those shops and shopping centres. At the end of the day we know people are crossing the boundaries every day, some people are going to work and are going to obviously stop in somewhere to grab something but we don’t want to sort of have people instantly think lets go up there,” Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti told CP24 on Friday afternoon.
“The lockdown is there for a reason, the red zone is here for a reason. We have to curtail the number of cases. That should be everyone’s priority. I don’t care what city, what neighbourhood, what town you are from.”
In addition to moving Peel and Toronto into the lockdown level in it’s tiered framework, the Ford government also announced on Friday that is was moving Durham and Waterloo into the red zone amid a surge in cases in those communities.
It has also doubled the amount of provincial money set aside for businesses forced to close due to public health measures to $600 million.
“We must all rally around our businesses and our neighbors right now. We must support them. Our government will be there to do our part,” Ford said.
Some of the other businesses required to close in Toronto and Peel as of Monday include zoos and aquariums, casinos and gaming establishments, museums and cultural amenities and event and meeting spaces.
The Ford government will also prohibit any new short-term rental bookings as of Monday, except for individuals in need of housing.
Libraries can remain open but only for contactless pickup and drop-off.