Ontario is taking a four-week pause in further loosening coronavirus-related restrictions amid a recent uptick in cases.
Health Minister Christine Elliott made the announcement during a press conference Tuesday.
“The latest trends in numbers have raised some concern, especially as we begin to reopen schools and post-secondary institutions,” Elliott said.
“That is why, based on the advice of the chief medical officer of health and the public health measures table, we will be taking a pause of four weeks — or two two-week cycles of the virus — before considering any further loosening of public health measures or further reopening of businesses, facilities and organizations.”
Ontario reported 190 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, which was the highest increase since July 24. Another 185 cases were reported on Tuesday. However, no new COVID-19-related deaths were announced on either day.
The province remains in Stage 3 of reopening, which includes restrictions on gatherings — capped at 50 people for indoor gatherings and 100 for outdoor, with physical distancing measures in place. Various health and safety requirements must also be in place at businesses.
Meanwhile, social circle guidelines remain capped at 10 people.
“We did not make this decision lightly,” Elliott said.
“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’ve made is not lost. Taking a pause in further reopening at this time will help us to avoid returning to broad-scale closures and shutdowns.”
Elliott’s announcement came the same day some students in Ontario returned to class for the first time since the pandemic began.
Concerns have been raised by teachers’ unions over the province’s school reopening plan, but government officials have repeatedly insisted that necessary health and safety precautions have been taken in developing the plan.
“The best way to keep our schools safe is to keep our communities safe,” Elliott added.
“We are once again asking all Ontarians to please follow public health advice. Continue to practice physical distancing, wear face coverings, practice good hand hygiene, stay within and protect your social circles and quarantine when returning from outside of Ontario.”
Premier Doug Ford said it appears as if the recent uptick in cases is localized largely in three regions: Brampton, Ottawa and Toronto.
“If you add all of those cases up, they’re the vast majority of cases in the province,” Ford said.
When asked whether those areas could be put back to Stage 2 of reopening, Ford said he would consult with his health team but added, “We aren’t there yet.”
Tuesday’s provincial report indicated that the majority of new cases came from Toronto with 48, Peel Region with 42, Ottawa with 37 and York Region with 19.
Twenty-eight of the province’s 34 public health units reported five or fewer cases, while 18 reported no new cases.
Ford once again called on Ontarians to avoid going to large social gatherings, as officials attributed part of the uptick to them.
“We can’t have these big parties. We can’t have the big weddings,” Ford said.
“I encourage the neighbours, if you hear the big parties, call … I’m asking the police: go in there and lay charges … We have to start putting the hammer down on people that don’t want to follow protocols and guidelines because it’s going to affect every single one of us.”
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