New restrictions coming for COVID-19 hot spots of Toronto, Peel, York Region

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Toronto and two other COVID-19 hot spots in Ontario will face new restrictions later this week, Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday.

Ford said the new measures, which will be announced on Friday, are necessary because the case counts in Toronto,  Peel and York regions are rising and hospitals are reaching capacity.

"The virus is spreading at alarming rates in these areas," the premier told a news conference. "Right now, we're staring down the barrel of another lockdown in these regions."

Ford issued the stark warning after Ontario reported 1,417 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, and 32 new deaths due to the virus. 

The province said 463 new cases are in Peel Region, 410 cases are in Toronto, and 178 are in York Region.

Ford expressed frustration with people he claimed were flouting public health rules and holding social gatherings.

"I just see it out there, some people are just throwing up their hands and saying, 'If I get it , I get it,'" he said. "Well, that doesn't cut it any more."

Toronto Mayor John Tory said the city has made recommendations to the province that are under consideration. 

"I hope they complete their deliberations as soon as possible, because I think the time for action is now," he said. 

Meanwhile, Ontario students won't have a longer winter break after all, as province said Wednesday that its COVID-19 protocols for schools are enough to keep kids safe at this time.

The decision was announced one day after the government said it was considering a prolonged break or starting the new year with a stretch of online learning, 

"We will continue to consider any option and take decisive action to ensure we deliver on this shared priority of keeping schools open in January and beyond," Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement.

"As we safeguard the progress we’ve made in our schools, we will continue to closely monitor all indicators, trends and numbers to protect the safety of our children, their families and all front-line staff in Ontario’s schools."

Lecce said the government had consulted the province's top doctor before arriving at the decision. 

Some education administrators have called for a delayed return to in-class learning, noting school is slated to start up again only a few days after New Year's Eve and it's likely students and staff will have had increased social contacts over the holidays.

NDP education critic Marit Stiles said the government's many changes in direction on the winter break are causing anxiety for families.

"This is exhausting for parents," she said. "Parents were wondering what this means, what they're supposed to do? It's really hard to keep track of where this government is going and their plans."

Liberal House Leader John Fraser said the government should have been "more transparent" with parents. 

"They should have said 'if we don't get COVID under control, this is what we may have to do.'"

Ford defended the sudden reversal, saying Ontario's chief medical officer of health rejected a plan to extend the winter break.

"Dr. Williams said no," Ford said. "For parents ... the safest place for their kids are in the schools, not when there's public spread out there."

Ontario reported 109 new COVID-19 cases related to schools on Wednesday, including at least 92 among students. 

Those bring the number of schools with a reported case to 670 out of Ontario's 4,828 publicly funded schools.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2020. 

Shawn Jeffords and Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press