TORONTO — Toronto will not open indoor seating at restaurants and bars or allow group fitness classes when it moves into Ontario’s new COVID-19 framework this weekend, officials said Tuesday.
“The spread of COVID-19 has never been greater in Toronto,” medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa said at her daily press conference.
“The grave risk we currently face is evident.”
Toronto will move into the “red zone” of Ontario’s new colour-coded system, de Villa said. But the city will also impose its own, stricter rules:
- Indoor dining will not be allowed at restaurants and bars;
- Meetings and event spaces, casinos and bingo halls will be closed;
- No indoor fitness classes will be allowed;
- Residents will be advised to limit contact to people they live with and one or two essential supports.
These measures will be in place for 28 days starting Saturday.
She said she was particularly concerned about the city’s latest positivity rate, or percentage of tests that come back positive, which is 5.9 per cent.
Earlier Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford defended his government’s framework even though case numbers continue to rise and officials like de Villa have had to write their own rules.
“When we put this together, we treated this as a baseline,” Ford said at a North York, Ont. bakery where he was promoting tax cuts for small businesses.
“Within any jurisdiction, the medical officer of health can add additional protocols, guidelines, so on, so forth.”
Ontario reported 1,388 new cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus Tuesday before Ford’s announcement, breaking the previous record of 1,328 set just two days before.
“These numbers are going in the wrong direction … This virus is spreading at an alarming rate all over the world and unfortunately, Ontario is no exception,” the premier said.
“Am I concerned? One hundred per cent, I’m concerned. These numbers keep me up at night … Even after Stage 2, we still see numbers escalating.”
He said his government will work with the areas with the highest case counts, Toronto and Peel Region, to get numbers down.
Peel writes its own rules, too
Peel Region is the only other area to be put into the “red zone” under Ontario’s new system. But Peel’s officials also put in place their own rules.
“Case counts and test positivity rates remain high, public health capacity is stretched thin, and hospitals are at capacity with some procedures cancelled,” the region said in a press release Saturday.
Peel’s medical officer of health announced rules more strict than the province’s, including:
- Wedding receptions and social gatherings in business establishments are banned starting Nov. 13;
- Meeting and event spaces like banquet halls must close;
- Bars and restaurants must ensure patrons are only sitting with people from their household;
- Religious services should be held virtually as much as possible;
- Residents must restrict their contact to people in their household unless they live alone; in which case they can join one other household.
Mayor John Tory, who appeared alongside Ford Tuesday, said the system could be more simple.
“I think we have a system, in this province and in this country, that’s more complex than it needs to be,” Tory said.
“We have been working with the province on some of the changes we will announce this afternoon. We have a common objective and that is to keep people healthy.”
Ford was also asked about Manitoba’s decision to move the whole province to its own version of “Code Red” rules Tuesday.
He didn’t rule out imposing similar measures on the Greater Toronto Area at some point.
“I can’t rule out anything .. If it needs to be done, we’ll do it.”
His opposition at Queen’s Park says his government is failing to stop the second wave of COVID-19 infections.
“Doug Ford is gambling with people’s lives, and he’s putting us all at risk of longer, deeper lockdowns later,” said NDP Deputy Leader Sara Singh said in a statement. “He’s downplaying the seriousness of the second wave and delaying the investments needed to help people and businesses get through it.”
“Doug Ford is gambling with people’s lives.”
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said local and national leaders are “losing faith” in Ford’s response.
“Hospitals are overcrowded and crying out for help, but Doug Ford isn’t listening. Once again, he’s betraying the people of Ontario with his negligence,” he said in a statement.
Green Leader Mike Schreiner said Ontario’s plan is “getting murkier by the minute.”
“Last week he announced a new provincial framework to get us through the second wave, but today he called it a baseline.
“It only adds to the confusion when the province has one set of benchmarks and local officials have another.
“But Ford doesn’t want to be the bad guy, so he loosened COVID-19 restrictions and left it to municipalities to do the hard work.”
This story has been updated with details about Toronto’s new rules.