Hamilton to be placed under a lockdown as Ford promises announcement on further restrictions next week
Published Friday, December 18, 2020 7:26AM EST
Last Updated Friday, December 18, 2020 5:54PM EST
Hamilton has been placed under a lockdown in the province’s tiered framework for COVID-19 restrictions and Premier Doug Ford says that an announcement is coming Monday on additional measures to curb the spread of the virus.
Ford made the comment as he delivered prepared remarks prior to an emergency meeting via teleconference with 113 Ontario hospital leaders on Friday afternoon.
He said that the lockdown orders in Toronto and Peel that are set to expire next week will also be extended and will now be re-assessed on Jan. 4.
“The trends that we are seeing throughout Ontario are very, very concerning and nothing is more important to our government than making sure we protect the health and safety of each and every person,” he said. “We are going to have an emergency meeting over the weekend and we will make a decision (on what is next) on Monday.”
Hamilton’s rolling seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases has increased 40 per cent over the last week and now stands at 106.7.
But as cases surged in recent days the city’s Lime Ridge Mall decided to extend its hours for the holiday season and large crowds of shoppers were seen descending on the complex, much to the chagrin of some local officials.
The lockdown order won’t take effect until 12:01 a.m. on Monday, at which point it will force non-essential retails stores to switch to curbside-only pick up for the final few shopping days before Christmas. It will also mean the outright closure of a wide swath of other businesses in Hamilton, including gyms and personal care services.
“I know that some folks may not be happy about this but it is the reality of the pandemic we are in the middle of and we have to get this under control,” Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberg said during a briefing late Friday afternoon. “If we all follow the rules we may very well do a great job of reducing the cases and allow us to get to a different place but for now we are going to follow the provinces advice and lock down.”
Local officials in Hamilton had put into place a series of additional restrictions, including one that required retailers to screen shoppers for symptoms of COVID-19 before admitting them into their stores.
Eisenberg said he had hoped that those measures would have “had some impact in terms of reducing the impact” but that wasn’t the case.
In fact the city's weekly incidence rate per capita is now worse than that of York Region, which was placed under a lockdown on Monday.
“I don’t think it (the numbers) left the province with much choice,” Eisenberg said.
In addition to the lockdown announced for Hamilton, the province is also moving an additional four regions into other more restrictive tiers in its framework.
The Niagara Region Public Health Unit and the Brant County Public Health Unit will be moved into the red “Control” category while the Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health will be moved into the orange “Restrict” category and the Timiskaming Health Unit will be moved to the yellow “protect” category.
The only public health unit moving into a less restrictive category is Public Health Sudbury and Districts, which will now be one of only five regions in the green.
"As the number of new cases in Ontario continue to rise, it is evident additional measures are needed in certain regions to stop the spread of the virus," Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams Chief Medical Officer of Health said in a press release issued late Friday afternoon.
Ford facing pressure to increase restrictions
Today’s talks with hospital leader came as Ford faced increased pressure to order further lockdown restrictions.
There have also been calls for schools to go remote-only for the first two weeks of instruction after the holiday break.
On Friday, Ford did not provide any indication of what sort of measures could be coming but he did say that he wants to hear from people “on the ground” about what is happening within Ontario’s hospitals, where nearly 900 people are now being treated for COVID-19.
In a statement released following the meeting, the Ontario Hospital Association said that it was “grateful” that Ford and several other government officials took the time to “hear firsthand, from hospital leaders across the province, about the extremely serious situations many organizations are facing and the severe pressures they are under.”
They said that they are hopeful that the government will ultimately “heed the advice of Ontario hospitals” and put into place “stricter and more robustly enforced public health measures in communities across Ontario.”
“On the cusp of the holiday season, should stricter measures not be put in place and should the public ignore public health advice and choose to gather over the holiday season the consequences risk overwhelming Ontario’s hospitals,” the statement warns. “Ultimately, every health care system has its breaking point.”
Crombie wants GTHA-wide lockdown
The province’s rolling seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases now stands at 2,089, which is up nearly 12 per cent from this time last week.
Hospitalizations have also continued to steadily rise, forcing some hospitals in the GTHA to cancel elective surgeries and procedures and some officials to warn of "important care" now being at risk.
"It’s been two days now since we all got that pretty clear warning note or alarm bell from the Ontario Hospital Association and today he says it’s going to be another three days before any decision is made," Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath told reporters while Ford was in his emergency meeting on Friday afternoon. "I mean the guy drags his feet. He’s not prepared to make urgent decisions."
The Ontario Hospital Association has called on the province to implement a 28-day lockdown in all areas seeing 40 new cases per 100,000 residents or more to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed.
The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario is also calling for a province-wide lockdown.
Meanwhile, in a statement issued on Friday afternoon Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said that she wants to see Ford announce a GTHA-wide lockdown on Monday “to drive down case numbers across the larger region and to protect our hospitals.”
She later told CP24 that it is clear from aggregate cell phone data that “people are region hopping” and that for the public health restrictions to be most effective they need to extend all the way from Niagara in the west to Durham in the east.
“I would expect that they are looking very closely not only at the case numbers but at the situation in the hospitals. Both our hospitals in Mississauga and Brampton are redirecting (patients) and cancelling elective surgeries so it is really quite a dire situation,” she said. “Our hospitals are our last line of defence and if they are over capacity then we have some serious issues.”