Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced Friday that restaurants and bars in Peel Region would be allowed to offer limited indoor dining, despite pleas from the area’s top public health official to keep current restrictions in place as COVID-19 infections shoot upward.
Mr. Ford said Friday that Peel would move into the province’s second-strictest “red” category for COVID-19 restrictions under Ontario’s new framework for reopenings, unveiled this week.
The move will allow restaurants and bars in Peel to reopen to indoor dining, as well as gyms, with only a maximum of 10 customers. But the change comes despite a request from the region’s Medical Officer of Health to put off any loosening of the rules for at least a week, as cases are rising rapidly and hospitals are strained.
Peel Region, west of Toronto, is the only public health unit in the province moving into the red “control” category under Mr. Ford’s new framework of pandemic benchmarks, which takes effect Saturday. As an alert level, it is second to only a full lockdown.
Peel, along with Toronto, York Region, and Ottawa, was put into what was called “modified Stage 2” restrictions last month, with a ban on indoor dining in restaurants and bars.
As of Saturday, Ottawa and York Region will move into the orange “restrict” category, while Toronto, at its mayors’ request, will remain in modified Stage 2 for at least until Nov. 14.
“The numbers that we’re seeing in Peel right and specifically Brampton, they’re through the roof,” Mr. Ford said Friday when asked about the decision, saying local hospitals were at capacity. “It’s out of control.”
But Friday’s move came after Peel Region’s Medical Officer of Health pleaded with the province not to loosen restrictions as cases there worsen sharply, warning of “serious implications” for hospitals – while the mayors of Peel’s biggest cities, Mississauga and Brampton, urged the reopening to go ahead.
In a letter sent on Friday and obtained by The Globe and Mail, Lawrence Loh, Peel’s Medical Officer of Health, asks the province to consider keeping his region under its current “modified Stage 2” restrictions until Nov. 14, “at a minimum.”
Mr. Ford’s cabinet met Friday to determine what to do about Peel Region, discussing whether to maintain restrictions there or to limit them to the region’s hardest-hit city of Brampton, according to a government source.
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown on Friday pointed to recent comments made by British Columbia’s top public health officer, Bonnie Henry, in which she said people should gather at restaurants instead of private homes, because restaurants take extra precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Brampton now has a test positivity rate of 11 per cent and a weekly rate of new cases at 170 per 100,000 people – much higher than the government’s new thresholds meant to guide reopening.
As a whole, Peel Region, which also includes the city of Mississauga and more rural Caledon, has a weekly rate of 103 cases per 100,000 people. According to the government’s new guidelines, a weekly rate of 100 cases calls for more stringent restrictions.
Epidemiologists have raised concerns about the province’s new guidelines, saying the thresholds for community spread remain much too high. Ontario on Friday reported 1,003 new cases of COVID-19, including 300 in Toronto, 280 in Peel and 125 in York.
In his letter, addressed to Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health David Williams, Dr. Loh warns against reopening Peel now, as “local data and trends do not currently support the unrestricted reopening of high-risk settings, including indoor dining and fitness centres among others,” without implementing other measures to address the key causes of transmission.
Dr. Loh has said private social gatherings are driving transmission of the virus in Peel and this week called for a ban on them.
In his letter, Dr. Loh said Peel’s weekly incident and test positivity rates are trending upwards and remain the highest in the province. Case and contact tracing efforts “are now beyond capacity,” and at least one hospital has seen more than 100 COVID-19 patients and shrinking capacity in the intensive care unit.
“I have been advised that there are serious implications for hospital capacity in the coming week, with at least one hospital contemplating major changes to service offerings (e.g. cancellations of elective surgeries) to cope with growing demand,” he said.
This article first published here www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-peel-regions-top-doctor-asks-ontario-to-delay-reopening-over-rising/