Toronto Star

Province may expand lockdown restrictio­ns

Health minister says areas outside GTA could see tougher orders Friday


The impacts of COVID-19 are radiating out farther from the lockdown zones of Toronto and Peel as the province marked a sixth straight day with new cases above 1,700 and 35 deaths, the highest in a week. Hospitals in Kitchener, Cambridge and Windsor are among those feeling the pinch of a growing pandemic that has already curbed non-emergency surgeries in parts of the GTA.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said parts of the province could see more restrictio­ns imposed on them Friday after the latest statistics are re-evaluated by Ontario’s chief medical officer Dr. David Williams.

“Dr. Williams is speaking with the medical officers of health in several other areas to obtain their views about whether … they think they should be moved up from orange to red or into lockdown,” she told reporters Wednesday in a reference to the province’s five-tier, colourcode­d framework.

Criteria include the weekly rate of cases per 100,000 people, the number of outbreaks, strain on hospital intensive care unit capacity and the percentage of people testing positive, along with a health unit’s ability to keep up with contact tracing.

York Region, Durham, Halton, Hamilton, Waterloo and Windsor-Essex are now in the red zone, one step short of lockdown.

In Kitchener, Grand River Hospital said it has temporaril­y paused non-urgent elective surgeries and has cut down to two cardiac surgeries a week.

“We are currently at full capacity in ICU (intensive care unit) and are experienci­ng a surge in COVID and non-COVID critical-care patients,” the hospital said in a statement as the surroundin­g Waterloo public health unit reported 103 new infections.

Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife called on Premier Doug Ford’s government to provide “imme- diate and urgent investment­s” for hospitals.

“Ontario is at a breaking point … things are only going to get worse,” the New Democrat said in the legislatur­e’s daily question period.

Elliott maintained “Ontario is not in a crisis right now” and said it is doing better than Alberta and Manitoba which have case rates four and six times higher, with Alberta “doubling up” patients in intensive care rooms.

“We are flattening this curve,” Elliott said.

Figures from her own ministry show active cases are at an all-time high of 14,526 people testing positive in the last 14 days and the seven-day average of cases hitting a record of 1,720, up 50 people from Tuesday.

There were 1,723 new cases reported Wednesday, up slightly from 1,707 the previous day.

Elliott later acknowledg­ed Ontario has “plateaued at a very high level but what we want to do is keep it there, but move it down.”

The health unit in WindsorEss­ex, which had another 60 cases and entered the red or “control” zone on Monday, said it is having trouble keeping up and is battling 18 outbreaks, including two of Ontario’s six current school closures.

Hospitals have put strict limits on visitors.

Most cases remain in the GTA, with Toronto at 410 new infections, Peel with 500, York 196, Durham at 124 and Halton with 45. Hamilton had 74.

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