Gyms, indoor dining rooms, and movie theatres will be closed in York Region for 28 days starting Monday as the area joins Toronto, Peel Region, and Ottawa in a modified version of Stage 2.
Premier Doug Ford announced the additional restrictions at a news conference in Mississauga on Friday afternoon.
“By all accounts, the indicators are going in the wrong direction. We’re seeing a rapid increase in the rate of infection with the positivity rate above 2.77 per cent, above the high alert threshold of 2.5 per cent,” Premier Doug Ford said.
“Cases per 100,000 in York are now nearly 39, well, well above the provincial average and similar to what we have seen in our worst hotspots. Most concerning of all, critical care admissions are reaching alarming levels.”
There were 62 new cases of the virus confirmed in York Region on Friday and 127 new cases on Thursday, which was the third highest in Ontario behind Toronto (239 cases) and Peel (136 cases).
Ford said he met with members of his cabinet this morning to discuss the situation in York Region and the decision was made in consultation with the province’s chief medical officer of health and experts at the health command table.
“This was not an easy decision to make and I know this will be very, very difficult for many people to hear but we can’t allow this virus to get into our long-term care homes. We need to protect our schools and our communities. We need to keep performing vital surgeries in our hospitals,” Ford said.
“We need to stop the spread before things get worse. We need to avoid a full lockdown. We took the same decisive action with Toronto, Ottawa, and Peel Region.”
Last Friday, the premier provided the three COVID-19 hotspots with less than 12 hours notice that municipalities would move back to a modified version of Stage 2 for 28 days following a surge in cases.
Ford said the province opted to give York Region until Monday at 12:01 a.m. in an effort to provide local businesses, including restaurants, with more time to respond.
“That was a big issue last time,” Ford said. “Everyone is stuck with food, probably millions and millions of dollars of inventory in their freezer and fridge… That food to them, that’s money.”
Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti released a statement Friday, thanking the premier for the advance notice.
“I sympathize greatly with businesses in our community and I have been so impressed by how our local restaurant and hospitality industry has adhered to public health protocols. These new restrictions bring about more uncertainty and additional challenges,” his statement read.
“I strongly encourage residents to support local restaurants as they shift to take-out and delivery only.”
He also urged other levels of government to come to the table with additional assistance for the hospitality industry on top of the $300 million the province has already earmarked for businesses in regions that have been forced to revert back to Stage 2.
Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua said he supports the premier's decision as it is based on science and advice from medical officers of health.
While he is concerned about the state of small businesses in his city, Bevilacqua said they are resilient. He believes that the money from the provincial government will help businesses during the 28-day pause.
"I am very positive that we will come out of this stronger," Bevilacqua said.
Meanwhile, Whitchurch-Stouffville Mayor Iain Lovatt said while he understands that a decision had to be made, given the number of new cases in the past days in the region, this preemptive move by the province is difficult for smaller municipalities in the region that don't have many COVID-19 cases.
There has been a total of 160 cases in his municipality since the pandemic began.
Like the other mayors, he is concerned about some of the businesses affected by the stricter restrictions.
"We've got restaurants that have been here for 40 years that this 28-day shutdown could be really devastating for them," Lovatt said.
He hopes that the financial support announced by the province will assist businesses in the short term.
"Hang on, please. We know this is a tough situation," Lovatt said.
"My call for our community is to support them through takeout and in any way that we can in the short term. Let's get through these 28 days, and hopefully, we can we'll be out of this."
Last week, the federal government also announced a new suite of measures aimed at assisting businesses that are struggling amid the pandemic.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, previously indicated that officials are also concerned about the rising case numbers in Halton Region though no additional restrictions were announced for that part of the province today.
There were 46 new COVID-19 infections reported in the region today and 28 on Thursday.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott confirmed Friday that officials are still keeping an eye on Halton.
Ford also expressed concern about the rising numbers in the region.
"I am begging the people of Halton; please help me out here. I do not want to make that decision for Halton," he said.