In his daily COVID-19 update today, Premier Doug Ford announced that just three regions would be permitted to emerge from the provincewide stay-at-home order this week. Simcoe Muskoka is not among them, and will instead remain under the stay-at-home order until next week before learning where the region will fall in the province’s colour-coded COVID-19 Response Framework.
The health units permitted to lift the order this week, and move to the Green-Prevent level on Feb. 10, are: Hastings Prince Edward Public Health; Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health; and Renfrew County and District Health Unit. Twenty-eight health units, including Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, will continue under the stay-at-home order until Tuesday, Feb. 16, while Toronto, Peel, and York will continue until Feb. 22.
Each health unit will receive individual orders placing them in one of the province’s colour-coded COVID-19 framework zones based on trends in public health indicators. Among the considerations for each region will be case numbers, hospital capacity, and spread of variants of concern.
Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, urged continued caution and expressed concern over the rise of coronavirus variants in the province. Of note for Muskoka, there have been 128 cases in Simcoe County with a confirmed UK B.1.1.7 variant, and a COVID-19 cluster in North Bay with one test returning preliminary confirmation of a variant of concern.
“I want to caution that while we’ve seen some progress, the risk remains high,” said Elliott. “COVID-19 variants are now spreading in Ontario and remain a significant threat to controlling the pandemic in all areas of the province, including those currently with low transmission.”
The province has begun screening all positive COVID-19 tests for known variants, she added.
Given the risk posed by new variants, the province said it is introducing an “emergency brake” which would allow it to immediately move a region into Grey-Lockdown if it experiences rapid acceleration in transmission of the virus, or if there is risk the health care system will become overwhelmed.
“It remains critical to continue following public health advice and measures to protect our communities, our most vulnerable populations, and stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Elliott.
Acknowledging the strain on businesses and high unemployment caused by the shutdown, Premier Ford said that the government has also updated the restrictions on retail businesses within its framework.
“I just want to emphasize, health and safety is the single most important, it trumps everything… The unemployment rate is 153,000 people lost their jobs. That’s 153,000 families that are struggling to pay their rent or to pay a mortgage or to put food on the table. We’re gonna do everything we can to help the small business folks…but we have to do it cautiously.,” he said.
Within the updated measures, limited in-person shopping in non-essential businesses in Grey-Lockdown zones will be permitted at 25 per cent capacity, while those in Red-Control zones will be limited to 50 per cent capacity. Individuals will also be required to wear a face covering and maintain physical distance when indoors in a business, with limited exceptions.
Other new measures include a requirement for individuals to wear a face covering when attending an organized public event or gathering (where permitted) both indoors and outdoors if they are within two metres distance of another individual who is not part of their household. See further details at ontario.ca.
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