By Shawn Jeffords The Canadian Press
TORONTO–Parts of Ontario could see another lockdown if the province cannot get a handle on increasing rates of COVID-19, Premier Doug Ford warned Monday as the government reported a daily increase of new cases not seen since early June.
Ford said the recent spike in virus rates over the past two weeks has his government concerned, conceding in his daily media update that he is considering closing down hard-hit areas.
The premier said the lockdowns would be regional, and not mirror the broad approach taken during the first wave of the virus in March.
“We will take every step necessary including further shutdowns,” he said. “The second wave of COVID-19, it’s a scenario that we’ve been preparing for all summer long.”
The province reported 313 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, with nearly 80 per cent of them centred on three regions. Toronto reported 112 cases, Peel Region recorded 71 and 60 surfaced in Ottawa.
Ford stressed that while a second wave is coming, Ontario residents can lessen its impact by continuing to follow public health guidance. This includes avoiding social gatherings, which he said have contributed to the recent spike in new cases.
“It’s not the bars … or the restaurants, it’s social gatherings,” he said. “So folks, I’m begging you. Please just cut out the social gatherings. It’s just not worth it because this COVID is ramping up again.”
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province will unveil a new strategy to address COVID-19 this fall which will take into account flu season and current capacity challenges in both long-term care facilities and hospitals.
“I think it’s fair to say that the second wave is going to be more complicated and more difficult to deal with than the first wave,” she said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the province should have released the plan weeks ago.
“The reality is, we’re staring down these over 300 (daily) cases now,” she said. “Today, the government was saying we have a plan for a second wave, it’s obviously a day short and more than a penny short. That’s what we’ve seen thus far from this government.”
Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health urged people to remain vigilant when it comes to attending social gatherings.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe said she thinks there has been confusion about rules surrounding the gatherings of up to 50 people in indoor settings, adding that physical distance should be maintained and masks should be worn when it’s not possible to remain two metres away from other attendees.
“We do understand how hard it has been on everyone these last few months,” she said. “We know there is a desire to interact with your friends and family and those outside your social circle. But we are now seeing the effects of people being too casual.”
The head of the province’s hospital association also issued a warning on Monday that the increasing COVID-19 infection rates could plunge Ontario into a second lockdown.
Ontario Hospital Association president Anthony Dale said that infection rate increases in the three current hotspots could spread to the rest of the province if people don’t respect public health guidelines.
Some Ontario residents have been lulled into a false sense of security and they must practise physical distancing, wear masks when required, and neither host nor attend unsafe gatherings and parties, he said.
“If current trends continue to accelerate, economic restrictions may tighten once more, and the school year for our children will be in jeopardy,” Dale said in a statement.
Ontario reported two new cases of COVID-19 in schools, one in Mississauga and one in Pembroke, Ont., according to the government’s website.
Four school boards also reported new cases of the novel coronavirus not posted on the government page. Halton District School Board had two new cases, according to its COVID-19 advisory page.
Meanwhile, politicians returned to Ontario’s legislature for the fall session on Monday, with the Progressive Conservative house leader saying the government will focus on the impacts of COVID-19 on the economy, school reopenings and the health-care system.
Paul Calandra said Ontario’s 2020-2021 budget – which was delayed by the pandemic – will be delivered on, or before, Nov. 15.
Calandra said the government is also leaving itself leeway in the legislative schedule in case it needs to introduce additional measures to address COVID-19 this fall.
“We’re seeing the (COVID-19 case) numbers are creeping up so if we get into a second wave, we want to be able to react quickly,” Calandra said. “Should time be needed on the legislative schedule to pass bills, we’re building that in.”