TORONTO — One of Ontario's largest regions may face a lockdown if its residents don't follow public health guidelines, its top doctor warned Monday as the province offered to help bring the surge in COVID-19 cases under control.
Peel Region's medical officer of health, Dr. Lawrence Loh, said the rising COVID-19 case counts are putting a strain on local hospitals. Over the weekend, he introduced a series of measures that go further than restrictions imposed by the province last week.
Under the new guidelines, residents must limit their interactions to members of their household and essential supports.
"This disease cannot spread if we're not meeting person-to-person," Dr. Loh said. "Just for the next two to four weeks, so we don't end up in lockdown, we could keep our schools open, and hopefully have a shot at the December holiday season."
Peel Region is currently the only one in the red category of the province's new COVID-19 restrictions system, meaning indoor capacity at local restaurants and gyms is capped at 10 people, among other things.
Starting later this week, wedding receptions will be barred through the end of the year. Meeting and event spaces, including banquet halls, are will be closed and the region is recommending that religious services take place virtually.
Earlier on Monday, the province moved to bolster COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and hospital resources in Peel Region, which includes Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon.
Dr. Naveed Mohammad, president and CEO of William Osler Health System, which serves Brampton, said the hospital currently has more than 100 patients who have COVID-19 or are waiting for test results to confirm they have the virus.
The patients must be sequestered in single rooms, creating capacity issues, he said.
The crunch has impacted hospital operations and currently non-essential elective surgeries are being cancelled to help ease the pressure, he said.
"We have every nook and cranny open ... that can safely house a patient," he said.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said all options are on the table to protect the health and safety of those living in Peel Region.
"We need people to understand that they have a direct role and responsibility in following the public health measures," she said. "That is what's going to really make the difference."
Elliott said the province will set up three new testing centres and a mobile testing unit in Brampton to address rising rates there.
The province is also providing 70 more contact tracers to Peel Region's public health unit, and funding for 234 additional hospital beds, she said.
The government is also freeing up some capacity for walk-in testing at assessment centres in Peel Region for those who cannot book tests over the phone. The province switched to an appointment-based system for testing last month.
Premier Doug Ford supported the new measures introduced by Dr. Loh and dismissed criticism that the province's new tiered pandemic response framework is too weak, making the local action necessary.
"That's what's good about this framework," Ford said Monday. "They have the flexibility to add additional protocols or guidelines if they wish to ... so I support what he has done."
Ontario reported 1,242 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and 12 deaths related to the virus -- 279 of the new cases were in Peel Region.
Ontario NDP legislator Kevin Yarde, who represents a Brampton riding, said the city needs further urgent action to address the rising case rates.
“Our community is in crisis," Yarde said in a statement. "We need more resources, not press releases that make the government look like they’re doing more than they actually are."
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca praised Peel's medical officer of health for taking action where he said Ontario has failed.
"With zero help from Doug Ford, Peel has moved forward with their own enhanced measures to halt the growing spread of COVID-19," he said in a statement. "Thank goodness they have the courage to overrule Doug Ford."
Meanwhile, Toronto Mayor John Tory expressed concern about the rising infection numbers in the city, where 504 new COVID-19 cases were reported Monday.
He said local restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus are in the works.
“We’re at a crucial point where we all need to tighten up our own lives to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Tory said.
The mayor advised that the city is looking to other jurisdictions, including nearby Peel Region, as it considers enacting municipal measures.
"An enhanced suite of measures” will likely be necessary to stem the spread of the illness in Toronto, Tory said, with more information to come on Tuesday.
“What you can expect is strong, responsible action based on the best practices and the best available advice,” he said.
-with files from Holly McKenzie-Sutter.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published November 11, 2020.
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press