Halton asks to avoid restrictions as Ontario COVID-19 cases reach new high

Holly McKenzie-Sutter
·4 min read

Politicians from a Toronto-area region facing the prospect of stricter public health measures pleaded for an exemption on Saturday, arguing the local COVID-19 case load isn't on par with numbers in other hot spots that drove Ontario's total to a new single-day high.

The 978 new cases recorded in the past 24 hours marks the largest number of new diagnoses recorded in a 24-hour period since the global pandemic was declared in March. Ontario also recorded six new deaths linked to the novel coronavirus.

The bulk of the new cases remained concentrated in the long-standing hot spots of Ottawa, Toronto and the neighbouring regions of York and Peel.

The Ontario government moved all four of those districts back to a modified Stage 2 of the provincial pandemic recovery plan over the past few weeks, citing rising case numbers, and raised the idea of tightening restrictions on the nearby region of Halton as well in the coming days.

Premier Doug Ford said Friday that officials would review the situation in Halton, Durham Region and other areas where case numbers are climbing and outline next steps on Monday.

But municipal and provincial politicians with ties to Halton, including members of the province's governing Progressive Conservative party, issued a letter on Saturday imploring public health officials to spare the region west of Toronto from widespread restrictions.

"There is no evidence to suggest that moving Halton to a modified Phase 2 will have any meaningful impact on reducing case counts," reads the letter to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams. "One thing that is certain, is that many people and businesses can not financially withstand another shutdown.”

The letter cited Halton's comparatively low case figures and hospitalization rates as the basis for the collective plea. Saturday's data showed 21 new cases in Halton compared to 348 in Toronto, 170 in Peel and 141 in York.

It also argued that measures already implemented within the region have been effective, including restrictions on the use of municipal facilities for sports and fitness and requests that people from hot spots avoid non-essential travel to the area.

The group also called for Williams to offer further clarity on the criteria for both imposing and lifting public health restrictions meant to curb the spread of the virus.

The mayors of Oakville, Burlington, Halton Hills and Milton, along with Halton's regional chair, have also appealed to the premier with a similar request.

The mayors co-signed a letter to Ford on Saturday saying the rationale for blanket restrictions is unclear. They argue the move would unfairly punish small businesses in the region and hurt the local economy.

A spokeswoman from the premier's office did not respond directly to the mayors' letter, but described COVID-19 case numbers in Halton and elsewhere in the province as “concerning."

“As we have done in the past, we will continue to provide a clear account of the data and evidence if and when a region needs to be moved into modified Stage 2,” Ivana Yelich said in a statement.

The rising provincial case load, meanwhile, drew sharp criticism from the head of Ontario's official Opposition on Saturday.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath attributed the record-high case increase to what she described as poor leadership by the premier, calling the situation avoidable.

“It never should have come to this,” Horwath said in a statement. “Doug Ford’s refusal to invest in stopping the growth of the second wave is costing us so much more – it’s costing people their health and their lives, it’s hurting small businesses and it’s making the second wave longer and deeper.”

Horwath called for greater testing and contact tracing capacity across the province, as well as more protections in long-term care homes and a cap of 15 students per class in schools.

Meanwhile, a Toronto hospital reported two new cases of COVID-19 among patients and staff on Saturday, saying it had also confirmed an outbreak in a third hospital unit.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health said the two new cases are in a patient and a staff member at the hospital's downtown Queen Street site.

It said it is now counting 10 patients and four staff members with COVID-19.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 24, 2020.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press