Ontario reports record high 1,132 COVID-19 cases as new restriction criteria roll out

·3 min read

Ontario notched a new single-day peak in
COVID-19 cases on Saturday just as the province implemented a new colour-coded assessment system that one public health unit rejected as too lenient. 

The province recorded 1,132 new infections and 11 new deaths linked to the novel coronavirus. The figures came as most of Ontario's hot spots imposed less stringent health measures according to the terms of the tiered assessment system that classifies regions as red, orange, yellow or green. 

Health restrictions in red zones include limiting indoor dining capacity and gyms to 10 patrons. The top doctor in Peel Region, the only public health unit currently classified as red, said those limits would not go far enough to stop the virus's spread. 

"It is time to shrink our lives to stop COVID-19 from growing completely out of control," Dr. Lawrence Loh said in a written statement. "These directives are strict, but they are what is needed to keep people in Peel working and learning, and able to access food, medical care and the basics of everyday life."  

Loh said the region's indicators are heading in the wrong direction, and swift action is needed.

"Residents of Peel must restrict their contact to members of their household and essential supports only. Those that live alone may join one designated household," the public health unit said. 

Residents are also not allowed to invite members of other households into their homes or yards, unless there's an emergency. 

The region is also barring wedding receptions "and associated gatherings" starting on Nov. 13 and lasting until at least Jan. 7, 2021. "Social gatherings celebrating holidays and life events in business establishments" will be banned on the same day, while religious services and rites will be urged to go online if possible. 

In-person religious events, including wedding ceremonies and funerals, must reduce indoor capacity to 30 per cent, with a maximum of 50 people per facility. 

Meeting and event spaces, such as banquet halls, must also close. 

And workplaces have to prohibit all non-essential visitors and make work-from-home options available as much as possible. 

The orange level of the new provincial system limits bars and restaurants to 50 people indoors, with no more than four seated together. 

Health officials in Peel had asked that the region remain under a modified Stage 2 — the restriction classification system previously used by the government — which involves more stringent rules such as a ban on indoor dining in restaurants and bars.

But the province rejected that request, instead classifying it as a red zone. 

Toronto is to stay in modified Stage 2 for another week. 

Health Minister Christine Elliott said the new COVID-19 cases include 336 infections in Toronto, 258 in Peel, 114 in York Region, 78 in Ottawa, 64 in Halton and 55 in Hamilton. The province completed 39,165 tests, with another 44,572 still pending. 

There were 384 people in hospital, 88 people in intensive care and 52 people on ventilators — all slight increases.

The daily case count surpassed the previous provincial daily high of 1,050 reported on Tuesday.

Despite the loosened restrictions in some regions, a large group of protesters  in a small southwestern Ontario town took to the streets calling for rules to be relaxed even further.

Hundreds of people marched through Aylmer, Ont., on Saturday afternoon, chanting slogans such as "freedom" and "healthy people don't wear masks."

Some heated exchanges broke out between the marchers and a small group of counterdemonstrators, but the rally remained peaceful. 

Aylmer's mayor had declared a state of emergency earlier in the week, saying the move conveys the seriousness of the situation and would help the municipality access funding.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 7, 2020.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press