Councillors in York Region are asking the Ontario government to loosen restrictions on the region when it returns to the province’s tiered reopening framework later this month, despite calls from many public health officials to hold the line when it comes to COVID-19 restrictions.

The province is gradually moving different regions back into the tiered framework following a provincewide lockdown that went into effect on Boxing Day.

Three regions with the fewest cases moved into the green zone this week. Most of the regions in the province will move back into the framework on Feb. 16, with local case counts and other localized health considerations determining which colour they will be in.

The hot spots of Toronto, Peel Region and York Region will return to the reopening framework last on Feb. 22.

On Thursday, Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti moved a motion at York Region Council for the region to request that the province move it into the red zone on Feb. 22, one notch below the most restrictive grey zone.

“What we've seen, certainly, in terms of the number of positive cases is a reduction and if that reduction continues up until including Feb. 22, we're saying that there should be a consideration of red zone, even if that's with additional restrictions,” Scarpitti told CP24 in an interview Thursday.

The red control zone would allow indoor gatherings of up to five people and outdoor gatherings with up to 25 people, as well as indoor religious ceremonies, weddings and funeral services at 30 per cent capacity. Restaurants, bars, gyms and recreational facilities would be allowed to reopen with capacity limits. Retail would be allowed to reopen as well as most personal care services.

York Region has seen its daily case counts come down in recent weeks, along with the rest of the province amid tight provincial restrictions.

However Scarpitti’s motion to move York Region into a less restrictive zone comes the same day that the province released new modelling showing that the increasing prevalence of virus variants means Ontario could stand on a knife's edge in terms of avoiding a third wave in the late winter or early spring.

The U.K. variant (B.1.1.7), as well as the South African (B.1.351) and Brazil (P.1) variants have all been detected in Ontario. All are considered to be more highly contagious variations of the virus and modelling has suggested that the U.K. variant could soon become the dominant strain in the province, setting up a scenario that could see cases explode in the event of a third wave.

The latest data from the province show that York Region has had 28 confirmed cases of the U.K. variant so far, but the region’s medical officer of health has said that the number is likely closer to 100 because most detected variant cases have not been through additional testing so far to confirm their strains.

Scarpitti said that while he knows many people want restrictions to continue, it is also important to allow businesses to resume operating.

“I know we've heard a lot from people saying ‘don't open,’ and then ‘no, close down again.’ The reality is that this is sort of what we're going to have to live with to some extent over the next several months because it'll be well into the fall before the majority of the population is vaccinated,” he said.

He pointed to an “emergency brake” in the province’s plan that would allow health officials to very quickly move a region into a more restrictive stage of reopening if cases begin to tick upward and said he is also open to additional restrictions specific to the region that would allow businesses to be open safely.