Ontario won't consider additional easing of COVID-19 restrictions for at least a month due to uptick in cases
People leave Sherway Gardens shopping mall during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, June 24, 2020. Toronto and the GTA entered stage two of opening. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)
Chris Fox, CP24.com
Published Tuesday, September 8, 2020 1:32PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, September 8, 2020 2:34PM EDT
Ontario won’t consider any additional loosening of public health measures for the next month due to a recent uptick in COVID-19 infections.
Health Minister Christine Elliott made the announcement at Queen’s Park on Tuesday afternoon, noting that it was a decision her government made on the basis of advice from Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams.
She said that the decision will mean that the province won’t consider increasing the number of people allowed to gather indoors (50) or outdoors (100) for the time being, nor will it expand social circles any further.
Other things that are currently prohibited from operating, such as amusement parks and nightclubs, will also remain closed until at least October.
“Ontario’s business leaders have shown incredible ingenuity and innovation in keeping our public safe, however we do need to ensure that the progress we have made is not lost,” she said. “Taking a pause in further reopening at this time will help us to avoid returning to broad scale closures and shutdowns.”
On Tuesday, Ontario reported 190 new cases of COVID-19, which is the highest daily count since July 24.
The seven-day rolling average of new cases has also risen steadily and now stands at 159 after dropping as low as 85 in August when the province went an entire week in which the daily number of new cases was in the double digits.
Speaking with reporters at Tuesday’s press conference, Premier Doug Ford conceded that the recent increase in cases has been “frustrating” but he pointed out that it has largely been driven by higher levels of infection in three regions – Brampton, Toronto and Ottawa.
He said that while his government is not yet at that point where it might consider putting some regions back in stage two of the reopening plan, it might get there should the transmission of the virus continue to increase.
Stage two allowed bars and restaurants to serve patrons but only on patios and not inside. Movie theatres and other entertainment venues were also forced to close.
“We aren't there yet but if it just keeps creeping and creeping and people are ignoring the guidelines and the protocols (we would),” Ford said. “Come on guys, we have gone through everything together as a team and you can't let your guard down now.”
Reopening of schools was a factor in decision
The positive rate in Ontario has gradually increased and was at 0.88 per cent on Tuesday.
That said, it is nowhere near the levels reached in early April when the province was struggling to ramp up its testing capacity and hundreds of new cases were still being confirmed each day.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Williams said that Ontario is at a different phase in the epidemic curve than it was in March when the number of infections were rising “rapidly.”
“When you talk about the second wave you see the numbers from your baseline start to go up by 300 or 400 per cent. We are not seeing that. We are seeing a percent increase. But that doesn’t mean we can be casual about it,” he said.
For her part, Elliott said that part of the reason to put a pause on reopening now is out of a desire to give the province the best chance possible at a safe reopening of schools, with some boards already back in classes and others following in the coming weeks.
“The reality is that spread in the community will also likely mean spread in the schools so we need to limit the spread in the community as much as possible,” she said.