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Ontario tightens COVID restrictions as Toronto calls for more urgent action

Friday, October 02, 2020 @ 4:36 PM | By John Schofield

The Ontario government is introducing even tighter public health restrictions as Premier Doug Ford proclaimed the province has entered the second wave of the pandemic.

But Toronto chief medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa is urging the government to take even stronger measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the provincial capital, where the number of new cases remains the highest in the province. In a public letter to Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, she recommended, among other things, that the province prohibit indoor dining in Toronto, stop indoor group gym classes and team sports and only allow individuals to leave their homes for essential trips.

“Without quick action from the province to implement further public health measures,” she said in the letter, “there is a serious risk that the city will not be able to prevent the health and economic impact resulting from this surge, particularly with the imminent change in season.”

Ontario reported 732 new cases of COVID-19 on Oct. 2, with 323 of those attributed to Toronto.

In an Oct. 2 news release, the Ontario government announced that under O.Reg 364/20 of the Rules for Areas in Stage 3, which is part of the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Approach to COVID-19) Act, 2020, it is mandating the use of face coverings in all public indoor settings across the province as of Oct. 3 at 12:01 a.m., including businesses, facilities and workplaces.

The Ford government is also implementing targeted measures for the so-called “hot spots” of Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region.

These include setting an indoor capacity limit at restaurants, bars and other food and drink establishments (including nightclubs) so patrons can maintain physical distancing of at least two metres — to a maximum of 100 patrons. The number of customers per table is now limited to no more than six, and operators must ensure that patrons lining up or congregating outside of their establishments maintain physical distancing. Restaurants and bars must also collect the name and contact information of every patron. Toronto has already reduced the indoor capacity at restaurants and bars to 75.

In addition, the government is restricting group exercise classes at gyms and other fitness settings to 10 individuals, as well as limiting the total number of people allowed at these facilities to a maximum of 50. It is also setting a limit on the number of people allowed at meeting and event facilities, including banquet halls, to six people per table and 50 people per facility.

To bring the province’s test result backlog of reportedly more than 90,000 people under control, the government also announced that Ontario COVID-19 testing centres will transition to appointment-based testing starting Oct. 6. And beginning Oct. 4, assessment centres will no longer offer walk-in testing services.

The province will continue with mobile testing and pop-up testing centres to reach vulnerable populations and will provide targeted testing for long-term care, congregate care and other vulnerable populations.

The number of pharmacies where people with no symptoms can get tested is being expanded, and updated testing guidance for children is being implemented to help parents determine when it is most appropriate for students, children and their families to seek a test for COVID-19.

According to the government news release, Ontario is also taking longer-term actions to increase the province’s test processing speed. It is aiming to increase testing and processing capacity to 50,000 tests per day by mid-October and 68,000 tests per day by mid-November, and is introducing new testing methods once they are approved by Health Canada, including point of care testing and antigen testing.

Provincewide, the release stated that the government is extending the pause on any further reopening of businesses, facilities and organizations for an additional 28 days, unless already permitted to open.

It is also pausing social circles and advising that all Ontarians allow close contact only with people living in their own household and maintain two metres physical distancing from everyone else. Individuals who live alone may consider having close contact with another household.

The government is also finalizing additional guidance for seniors (70 and over) on how to minimize their risk of acquiring COVID-19, including for upcoming annual gatherings such as Thanksgiving and Remembrance Day.

On Sept. 30, Ontario health officials released pandemic modelling results that indicated that new cases could climb to 1,000 per day by sometime in October if effective measures are not taken.

“The modelling we released this week demonstrates the absolute necessity to take action now to reverse current trends and protect our hospital capacity,” Ford said in the news release.

“With the weather changing and more people moving indoors, the decision to introduce new restrictions on restaurants, gyms and other businesses was difficult. However, we will do whatever is necessary, acting on the advice of our public health experts, to turn the tide on this second wave and keep everyone safe.”

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