With COVID-19 infections going up, Toronto and Peel Region are locking down.
As Ontario topped 100,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, Premier Doug Ford moved Friday to impose the most severe pandemic restrictions since the spring.
The two GTA hot spots will move to a 28-day “lockdown” on Monday morning, prompting concerns there’s nothing to stop residents from going to neighbouring York or Halton regions to get around closures of barber shops, gyms, outdoor dining and more.
Ford called the decision “a difficult but necessary step” after weeks of new highs in COVID-19 cases that threaten to overwhelm hospitals and further endanger nursing homes and schools.
“The situation is extremely serious,” a grim-faced Ford told reporters.
He urged shoppers to “please avoid panic buying right now” in a nod to shortages of toilet paper last March and April.
While schools and child-care centres will remain open, restaurants and bars in Toronto and Peel Region will be restricted to takeout food and booze only, with all patios closed.
Similarly, many stores will permitted to operate only with curbside pickup or delivery. There are exceptions for supermarkets, pharmacies, hardware stores, and dollar stores and big box retailers that sell groceries, as well as beer, wine and liquor stores, safety supply stores and convenience stores.
Stores that are allowed to remain open will be limited to 50 per cent capacity, raising the possibility of a return to lineups.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said the lockdown will be “devastating” to small operators deemed not essential, especially with the Christmas holidays approaching.
“That large department stores can be open while small retailers are forced to close during the busiest season of the year is a direct punch in the gut,” it said.
Malls can stay open, but non-essential stores within them must stay closed to customers, although they can offer curbside pickups. That could lead to “chaos” in parking lots, said NDP deputy leader Sara Singh.
Indoor organized public events and social gatherings will be limited to members of the same household, but seniors will be permitted to have “exclusive, close contact with one other person.”
Outdoor social gatherings will be limited to a maximum of 10 people. The same limit applies to weddings, funerals and religious services, indoors or outdoors, with safe physical distancing.
“I don’t like to use the words ‘bring down the hammer,’ but people have to abide by this,” said Ford, warning that scofflaws face fines from $750 to $10,000.
The Most Powerful Sale & Affiliate Platform Available!
There's no credit card required! No fees ever.Create Your Free Account Now!
Personal care services such as barbers and salons will be closed, as will casinos and bingo halls. Housekeepers and nannies are allowed.
Indoor sports and recreational facilities, including pools, will be temporarily shut just two weeks after gyms in Toronto and Peel Region were allowed to reopen under increased restrictions.
Opposition parties and doctors said Ford should have acted sooner, given the 1,418 new cases reported Friday and last week’s computer modelling that forecast Ontario could see 6,500 cases a day by mid-December.
“The premier was warned over and over again that this is where our province was headed, but he cancelled (previous) public health measures too soon,” Singh said.
Dr. Gerald Evans, chair of infectious diseases at Queen’s University and a member of the science table advising the government, said Ford’s move was a week or two late, and that he should extend the restrictions into the new year.
“Opening up just before Christmas just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” Evans told the Star from Kingston, saying the lockdown is a much-needed signal to people that “this is getting really bad.”
Ford said Friday that the government is “going to see how it goes after the next four weeks.”
Earlier Friday, Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca called on Ford to lock down York Region in addition to Peel Region and Toronto, and to impose travel bans from the hot zones after weeks of “dithering half-measures” that allowed COVID-19 to spread rapidly.
York Region has asked to stay out of lockdown but is pushing the province to impose capacity limits on its malls and stores to prevent thongs of frustrated shoppers from Toronto and Peel Region from flooding in.
“We are hopeful the province will act on our request,” said Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, who urged residents of Toronto and Peel to stay away from family, friends and stores in York Region.
Ontario’s chief medical officer said residents of areas with higher restrictions should not to go to areas with lower levels of public health measures, but admitted that the recommendation would be tough to enforce.
“We are going to be trusting and confident the public will do the right thing,” Dr. David Williams told reporters.
Rocco Rossi, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, called for clear directives from all levels of government.
“We have heard clearly from our members with respect to confusing and inconsistent public health guidelines; a lack of testing and tracing capacity, insufficient data on the sources of community spread. and a lack of timely and accessible supports for business” Rossi said.
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe