By ALI RAZA, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Toronto and Peel Region will enter the province’s Lockdown level effective Monday, Nov. 23, Premier Doug Ford announced on Friday afternoon.
It means restaurants, bars, and other food and drink establishments will only be able to provide takeout. Indoor dining and patio dining has been prohibited.
Personal care services such as barbershops and salons will be closed. Casinos, bingo halls, and other gaming establishments will be closed. Indoor sports and recreational facilities will be closed.
Essential retail such as grocery stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, hardware stores, discount and big box retailers selling groceries, liquor stores, safety supply stores, and convenience stores will be allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity.
Non-essential retail will be closed and will have to operate through curbside pickup or online delivery. Wedding services, funeral services, and religious services can have up to 10 people indoors or 10 people outdoors. Outdoor organized public events or social gatherings will be limited to 10 people.
Residents are asked to stay at home and go out for essential needs only. No indoor organized events or social gatherings are permitted. Individuals who live alone, including seniors, can have exclusive contact with another person.
Schools and child care centres will remain open.
The Lockdown order follows a continuing steady rise of cases in Ontario, with 80 per cent of new cases in Red Zone regions in and around the Greater Toronto Area.
Hospitalizations have increased by 22 per cent, and ICU admittance grew by 50 per cent, Ford said. The Premier added that if the restrictive actions were not taken, the province would see up to 6,000 daily cases in the coming weeks.
“This virus, it spreads like wildfire,” Ford said. “And in certain parts of the province it’s spreading at an alarming rate.”
He explained that if the lockdown measures aren’t taken then it risks overwhelming the province’s hospitals and ICUs, reminding Ontarians that the “situation is extremely serious.”
The new health measures will be in place until Dec. 21.
The province also announced $600 million in business relief (up from its initial announcement of $300 million). Eligible businesses can apply online for a temporary property tax and energy cost rebate grants.
The rebates will cover the length of time the business is required to close. Most businesses can expect to receive rebate payments within a few weeks of submitting an online application at Ontario.ca/covidsupport
Ford’s announcement follows Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s earlier announcement Friday, Nov. 20, morning.
“This is for the future of our country, our children, our loved ones, our seniors, its economy, our businesses,” he said, asking Canadians to stay at home as cases spike across the country.
“Another few weeks, another few months, we can do this, we’ve done it before, we know what to do, we understand this virus much better than before, we need to reduce our contacts, we need to do it right now,” the Prime Minister added.
As of Nov. 20, Ontario reached more than 100,000 cases, and 3,451 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic this year. There are 518 patients hospitalized, 142 in ICU, and 92 on a ventilator, with the numbers continuing to grow.
Both Toronto and Peel have seen roughly 300 to 500 new cases each day for the last three weeks.
Toronto had a total 35,040 cases as of Nov. 20 since the beginning of the pandemic, currently it has 4,398 active cases. Almost 1,500 Torontonians have died this year as a result of COVID-19.
Across the city, COVID-19 has spread in varying degrees. While the northwest and Scarborough remain hardest hit, it has spread quickly through some parts of East Toronto and neighbourhoods surrounding the Danforth, including outbreaks in local long-term care homes.
As per Toronto Public Health data, in the last 21 days the Beach had six cases, East End-Danforth had 21 cases, Taylor-Massey had 47, Danforth and Danforth-East York had 13 and 18 respectively, and Greenwood-Coxwell recorded 24 cases.
The caseload per 100,000 is dire in Taylor-Massey (Crescent Town) where there are 300 cases per 100,000 in the last three weeks.
Beaches-East York NDP MPP Rima Berns-McGown said the emergency public health measures announced on Friday aren’t enough to stop the spread.
“Until Ford makes the connection that he needs to support vulnerable workers and communities, we will not be able to get this virus under control,” she said.
“It will cost the economy more in the long run than it would to invest in the workers, communities and small businesses that need immediate help.”
Berns-McGown added the province “wouldn’t have been in this situation” if Ford had taken public health advice that included more testing and contact tracing. The Premier has responded to criticism by saying he listens to all the medical advice he receives from Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams, who was present and also spoke at Friday’s press conference.
As per the NDP’s repeated requests this year, Berns-McGown said the reduction of school class sizes, allowing workers to have paid sick days to stay home when they’re ill, and an emergency moratorium on evictions is what would actually make a difference in bending the curve of COVID-19 cases.
“One of the reasons we are in this nightmare is that many of our frontline workers are low-income earners who can’t afford to stay home when they are sick. So they don’t know if they will be evicted if they fall behind in their rent,” she said.
Beaches-East York Councillor Brad Bradford, who had been monitoring the effect the pandemic has had on local businesses, said the lockdown is very worrying.
“As I talk to community members across Beaches-East York, I know another lockdown is going to have major impacts on our physical, economic and mental health,” he said. “Our local businesses have been hard hit. We hear a lot about the hospitality sector but our other local staples like gyms, yoga studios and other recreational activities are really hurting. I share a lot of the sentiments I’m hearing about the approach and communications on managing this crisis being confusing and seeming inconsistent.”
“While it’s sometimes hard to understand one specific decision over another, it’s clear that we need to take the public health advice seriously,” Bradford added.
Earlier moves by the city that had allowed restaurants and bars to offer outdoor patio service and space over the winter, will be ineffective during the lockdown.
Local politicians, business owners, and the Premier are all imploring residents to shop local and order takeout to help weather the economic fallout of the lockdown.
The Premier also told Ontarians to “avoid panic buying” as supply lines remain open and continuous.
While Toronto and Peel moved into Lockdown stage, Durham and Waterloo were moved to Red, and other health units across Ontario moved to Orange or Yellow.
At the press conference, Dr. Williams asked Ontarians in high risk zones to avoid travel to lower risk zones during the lockdown.
Last week, pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, BioNTech, and Moderna announced a 90 to 95 per cent effective vaccine, which Ontario is expected to receive in the beginning of 2021.
“The vaccines are around the corner,” Trudeau said at this announcement Friday. “We’ll get through, and we will rebuild.”
Ali Raza is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.