Halton mayors tell premier that no new COVID-19 restrictions needed in their region
Four mayors in Halton Region say no new COVID-19 restrictions are needed in the communities they represent because the daily case counts don't warrant a such a clampdown.
The mayors do not want the Ontario government to close gyms or restrict restaurant dining.
Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward and Oakville Mayor Rob Burton told CBC News on Sunday that any provincial tightening of COVID-19 restrictions should be based on evidence, not on geography, and certainly not on the fact that the region could be considered part of the larger Greater Toronto Area.
Meed Ward and Burton said a "blanket approach" is not the answer. Targeted restrictions, based on case counts, make more sense, they argued. The comments came after the Ontario health ministry reported more than 1,000 new cases on Sunday and after the mayors wrote a letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Saturday.
"We have supported a regional and targeted approach really since the beginning of the pandemic. You'll remember that we got out of Stage 2 lockdown sooner than other places because we advocated precisely for a regional approach based on health evidence," Meed Ward said.
"When you look at the evidence of where those thousand cases are coming from, the vast majority is Toronto, Peel, York and Ottawa. And it's not Halton," she added.
"We sometimes get lumped in with the Greater Toronto Area, but our numbers are completely different."
Meed Ward said the mayors are urging Ford and his medical team, including Dr. David Williams, the province's chief medical officer of health, to consider the region's daily case counts. Its numbers have been lower than other regions since the start of the pandemic, she said.
Halton region has taken a number of measures voluntarily based on the advice of its medical officer of health, such as the cancellation of all fitness classes and team sports except for training in city facilities, and the mayors are asking the premier to give those measures time to do their work, she said.
"We have always, throughout this pandemic, been lower than our neighbours to the east and we are simply asking for the decision to be based on evidence, not geography," she said.
Meed Ward said tightening of restrictions will have a negative effect. "You will, potentially, putting businesses out of business for good. You will be sending workers home without a salary."
'There's a discipline here,' Oakville mayor says
Burton, for his part, agreed, saying "the places with the cases" need to be addressed.
"We are united in our belief that Halton's numbers are so low that it would be premature and not necessary to roll us back to any form of Stage 2," Burton said.
"We are going to have to get way more particular, way more specific, about how we deal with this because we have a long haul ahead of us."
Burton added that restaurants and shops in Oakville, in particular, have been strict about making patrons wear masks and keep their distance.
"There's a discipline here," he said. "I think that Oakville and Halton have shown that if you have discipline, you can keep your numbers down and you can stay safe."
Letter to premier calls for evidence-based decision
In a letter to Ford, dated on Saturday, Meed Ward and Burton, along with Halton Hills Mayor Rick Bonnette, Milton Mayor Gordon Krantz and Halton Regional chair Gary Carr, call for an "evidence-based decision" and they say a rationale for rollbacks is needed to get residents to co-operate.
A similar letter, signed by Halton MPPs Jane McKenna (Burlington) and Parm Gill (Milton), as well as Meed Ward, Krantz and Carr, was sent to Dr. David Williams. The two MPPs did not sign the letter to Ford.
"Now, nearly 7 months later the public is demanding more than just the blanket statement of 'on the advice of medical experts.' In fact, without providing specific justification for implementing new restrictions, there is legitimate concern that people will start to ignore public health advice," the letter to Williams reads.
The letters indicate that Halton has lower case numbers and higher hospital capacity than either Toronto or the neighbouring regions of Peel and York.
The GTA hot spots, along with Ottawa, have been operating under a modified version of the second stage of the provincial recovery plan for the past two weeks.
Premier Doug Ford has said he plans to weigh in on what needs to happen in Halton and some other areas by Monday.