Doug Ford says more restrictions coming as Ontario’s new COVID-19 cases top 400

Premier Doug Ford says more parts of Ontario will see the size of social gatherings restricted as the province topped 400 new cases of COVID-19 for the first time since early June.

The Ministry of Health reported another 401 infections Friday as new restrictions limited indoor gatherings to 10 people and outdoor ones to 25 in the key breeding grounds of Toronto, Peel and Ottawa, which were home to 68 per cent of the new cases.

“We’re going to be rolling out other areas across the province from the request of the mayors,” Ford told a news conference in Ottawa, calling the leap in cases this week “very concerning.”

He did not name any municipalities, but London — where there has been an outbreak of cases among Western University students partying in bars, restaurants and private homes — and York Region were expected to be on the list after pleas from both.

Outside the hot spots of Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa, indoor gatherings of 50 and outdoor gatherings of 100 are still allowed with physical distancing. Fines for violating the limits are rising to $ 10,000 for party organizers and $ 750 for anyone in attendance.

In London, Mayor Ed Holder referred to the 47 new cases in the last week — including 30 since Wednesday alone — as the biggest local spike since April.

“The reality of where we find ourselves right now is undeniable and unnerving,” he told a news conference Friday, warning additional measures could be invoked locally “if this recent surge is not reversed.”

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti said Ford “did not cast the net far and wide enough” by excluding York Region from the lower limits announced Thursday for neighbouring Toronto. York had 40 new cases in Friday’s report.

The daily tally of 401 cases is up substantially from 293 on Thursday and the recent high of 315 the previous day as public health officials become increasingly worried over the rapid spread of the highly contagious virus, which has led to long lines at testing centres.

“I understand people are anxious,” Ford said, noting pharmacies will be providing tests to people without symptoms of COVID-19 “by this time next week.” That will leave hospital-based assessment centres clear for people with symptoms of the virus.

Opposition parties said Ontario is losing more ground daily in fighting the pandemic despite knowing cases were likely to surge in September.

“It should never have come to this,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. “Now, again, the province is chasing a crisis instead of getting out in front of it. We can’t wait.”

Ford promised a plan to deal with the rising number of cases will be unveiled next week.

“Instead of building up our testing system for this inevitable upswing, the premier spent the summer on a campaign tour patting himself on the back,” said Green Leader Mike Schreiner. “Ford’s second-wave plan will be useless if the horse has already left the barn.”

With more than 50 per cent of cases now having no known source, infectious diseases specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch of University Health Network said contact tracing must be improved to get a better idea of where and how COVID-19 is spreading so that chains of transmission can be shut down.

“We can be proactive,” Bogoch said.

For the first time in several days, no new deaths were reported Friday and hospitalizations increased by five people to 58 across the province, with 20 requiring intensive care and 10 of them on ventilators, well within the capacity of the health-care system.

There were 130 new cases in Toronto, 82 in Peel and 61 in Ottawa, while 15 of the province’s 34 health units had no new cases. There were 19 in Halton, eight in Durham, 10 in Simcoe-Muskoka (cottage country from Barrie northwards), 12 in Middlesex-London, nine in Waterloo and eight in Niagara.

In keeping with recent trends, 67 per cent of the new cases were in people under 40.

Nine more schools recorded cases of COVID-19, increasing the total to 60 with one in Pembroke remaining closed by the local public health unit following an outbreak. Students there are doing online learning from home.

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Other communities with school cases are Toronto, Ottawa, Mississauga, Brampton, Oakville, Ajax, Woodbridge, Maple, Markham, Cambridge, Waterloo, Orillia and Amherstburg.

There are 2,652 people across the province with active cases of the novel coronavirus after testing positive in the last 14 days, the highest since-mid June and almost triple the recent low of 891 in mid-August. Toronto now has 806 active cases, Peel has 566, Ottawa has 437 and York has 247.

Labs across the province processed more than 35,800 tests on Thursday on the way to a goal of 50,000 daily next month. Ford said the province will continue increasing the testing capacity beyond that.

Rob Ferguson

TORONTO STAR