Ontario reported another 1,829 cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, the most on a single day in about seven weeks as the province loosened restrictions on restaurants in some of the hardest-hit regions.
Today's case count is the highest since Feb. 1, and includes 593 in Toronto, 287 in Peel Region, 157 in York Region, 124 in Hamilton and 101 in Ottawa.
They come as labs completed 52,083 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and logged a positivity rate of 3.6 per cent.
The seven-day average of daily cases climbed to 1,532, a level also not seen since early last month.
Public health units that saw double-digit increases in cases were:
Durham Region: 77
Simcoe Muskoka: 50
Niagara Region: 42
Halton Region: 41
Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District: 32
Thunder Bay: 32
Eastern Ontario: 27
Waterloo Regions: 18
Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington: 11
(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health's COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit on a given day, because local units report figures at different times.)
There is a growing consensus among health experts and infectious disease specialists that Ontario has entered a third wave of the pandemic, driven primarily by variants of concern that are more transmissible and more likely to cause serious illness.
Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table, a group of experts that advises the government on its pandemic response, calculates that variants currently account for about 54 per cent of all new cases.
A total of 11,902 samples that tested positive for COVID-19 in Ontario have also screened positive for the tell-tale genetic mutation that indicates the presence of a variant, including 907 more yesterday.
Meanwhile, public health units recorded 11 more deaths of people with COVID-19. Ontario's official toll now sits at 7,223.
Revised restrictions for dining out
Starting today, restaurants in Toronto and Peel Region can offer customers outdoor dining.
Premier Doug Ford announced Friday that the province is loosening some COVID-19 restrictions to help struggling businesses.
While Toronto and Peel will remain in the strictest "grey lockdown" category of Ontario's colour-coded pandemic framework, restaurants in the two regions are being allowed to offer services outdoors.
In addition, food and drink establishments in regions in the second-strictest "red" category can increase capacity to 50 people indoors, up from the previous limit of 10. And establishments in "orange" zones can now have 100 people indoors, up from 50.
Ford's announcement came as public health officials in Halton Region said that 200 or more patrons of a restaurant in the health unit may have recently been exposed to a virus variant of concern. At least five staff members at Oliver's Steakhouse on Lake Shore Road East have tested positive for COVID-19, a spokesperson for the health unit said this morning.
Anyone who visited the establishment between March 8 and March 13 is being asked to self-isolate for 14 days. The health unit is attempting to contact everyone who may have been exposed, but that effort could take some time, the spokesperson said.
Halton Region is currently in the red zone of the restrictions system.
The loosening of restrictions also comes with a caution from Dr. David Williams, the province's chief medical officer of health, who notes that Ontario has entered a third wave of infections with more contagious variants spreading.
He says people must remain vigilant and continue to practice protocols such as mask wearing, hand washing and physical distancing.
Meanwhile, the province is expanding its COVID-19 immunization campaign next week to include residents aged 75 and older.
It will also allow certain pharmacies and family doctors in select regions to give the AstraZeneca shot to residents aged 60 and older as of Monday.
Eligible residents can contact a pharmacy directly to make an appointment. Participating pharmacies are currently located in the Toronto, Kingston and Windsor health units but Ford said the project will be expanding "across the province" in the coming weeks.
The province administered 60,283 doses of vaccines yesterday. A total of 297,134 people have now received both doses of a vaccine and are considered fully immunized.