With COVID-19 cases continuing to rise in Niagara and across the province, Ontario will begin a province wide lockdown beginning on 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 26.
The news, announced by Premier Doug Ford, means greater restrictions will be seen in Niagara, similar to those seen in regions across Toronto and the GTA.
The increased restrictions will be in place until at least Jan.9, when the province will reassess the situation and data from each of Ontario’s 27 public health units.
Ford said Monday, he is concerned by the accelerating rate of new COVID-19 cases, adding the decision to issue a province-wide shutdown was difficult, but necessary action to save lives.
“COVID is spreading rapidly from high outbreak areas to areas with fewer cases, and as it does our hospitals are filing up more each day.”
The decision to move all regions into lockdown will bump restrictions in Niagara up from the previously announced red zone to grey, which means increased limitations on non-essential retail and indoor gatherings.
Indoor gathering with people from outside your own household will be prohibited under the lockdown measures, while people living on their own will be permitted to have contact with one other household.
In the retail sector, all non-essential businesses will be closed to in store shopping, and remain open for curbside pickup only.
Businesses such as big box retailers such as Walmart and Costco selling food will be open, but operate at 25 per-cent capacity for in store shopping, with grocery stores open for up for 50 per cent capacity.
For malls, access will be restricted to a designated pick up area by appointment only.
All restaurants will also be limited to take out only.
Niagara's acting medical officer of health Dr. Mustafa Hirji said the move to lock down the province over the next two weeks is one the province must take in order to curb the rising spread of the virus.
"With COVID-19 surging in Ontario, and current measures not succeeding to bring infections under control, it is unfortunate that dramatic action such as the lockdown announced today became necessary. We sympathize with the many people who will be negatively affected by this lockdown: those who will be out of an income, those who will suffer the impacts of social isolation, the small business owners who will have to shutter their operations again after such a difficult year."
Niagara regional chair Jim Bradley said the lockdown will likely impact many over the holiday season, but could be the action needed to save lives across the region, and the province.
"As we saw during the early days of the first wave, a strict lockdown of non-essential parts of our economy can be an effective way to slow the spread of the virus and protect the lives of those most vulnerable. I know the holidays will make this news even more challenging to accept, but the situation is serious and the Premier has indicated that we all must do our part to protect our family, friends and front-line workers."
Schools in Niagara and the rest of Ontario will remain closed during the lockdown, with online learning from home taking place between Jan. 4 and Jan. 8, while students in elementary school are expected to return to in-person classes on Jan. 11, and high schoolers on Jan. 25.
After being moved from orange to red on Monday under the province’s COVID-19 framework, Niagara reported 82 new COVID-19 cases on its first day in the red zone, along with a combined 218 cases reported over the weekend.
Bryan Levesque, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News