Provincial shutdown will help prevent harsher measures in the future, region's top doctor says

Local officials in Waterloo Region said a province-wide shutdown now will help prevent harsher measures in the future as COVID-19 case counts continue to increase locally and across the province.

Premier Doug Ford announced Thursday afternoon the entire province would move into a shutdown for four weeks as of April 3 at 12:01 a.m. This will shut down non-essential services like in-person dining, personal care services and gyms. Essential stores can operate at 50 per cent capacity, while non-essential retail can open at 25 per cent capacity.

The shutdown is a sixth, white-coloured tier in the government's framework, which is similar to the grey "lockdown" rules.

Residents are not allowed to gather indoors with anyone outside of their households. Outdoor gatherings are capped at five people, as long as physical distancing is possible.

People should only leave their homes for essential reasons, which include heading out for food, medication, medical appointments and exercising outdoors.

Religious services can operate at 15 per cent capacity.

Speaking at the region's COVID-19 update on Friday morning, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said the measures will be necessary to control the third wave of the pandemic.

"I recognize that stricter measures will be difficult and present hardships for many in our community, but they will help control the impact and extent of the third wave in Waterloo Region," she said. "An uncontrolled third wave will necessitate longer and harsher measures."

Dr. Wang said she wasn't consulted about the decision to move into a province-wide shutdown and said she's still waiting to hear specifics from the province on Thursday afternoon.

"The latitude for medical officers is really to impose additional restrictions on top of provincial restrictions, not to tweak them the other way," Dr. Wang said.

Dr. Wang said local officials can layer on additional restrictions if they feel that is necessary.

Waterloo Region's case counts have fluctuated over the past week. Officials reported more than 50 cases on both Saturday and Sunday. There were 1,173 COVID-19 cases reported in the region in the month of March.

"I am concerned, because we are starting to see an increase in our case rates based on our data," Dr. Wang said.

Dr. Wang said rising numbers across Ontario are concerning for all areas of the province, even if some areas have lower case counts.

"This is dangerous for all of us," Dr. Wang said. "I respect that it's a difficult decision that the province has to make and they're getting the best advice possible from the provincial experts. I would support their decision if it means the province as a whole has to go into lockdown."

"If that's what they're recommending, this is what's best for the province, including Waterloo Region."

The weekly incidence rate rose from 38 cases per 100,000 people last week to 50 cases per 100,000 people this week. The positivity rate and reproductive rate have also increased this week.

"Our situation remains precarious," Dr. Wang said.

Dr. Wang said Waterloo Region's indicators are now in the red tier of the province's colour-coded framework. Last week, the area had moved into the orange tier.

Local officials urged people to only gather with people in their immediate household over Easter and hold virtual gatherings with all others.

ICU admissions in Ontario reached a record high this week and the province reported more than 2,000 new COVID-19 cases for eight days straight.

The seven-day average for new cases also rose to 2,341 from 1,794 a week ago.

On Friday, the province reported 2,557 new infections, the highest increase since Jan. 22.

Here are the provincial guidelines under the shutdown.

Gatherings and contacts:

  • Illegal to gather indoors with people outside of your household (people who live alone can have close contact with one other household)
  • Only leave for necessities like: work, school, groceries, pharmacy, helping vulnerable people, exercise
  • Stay two metres from others outside of your household and wear a mask
  • Only travel outside of your region if absolutely necessary
  • Outdoor gatherings capped at five people
  • Religious services, weddings and funerals can operate at 15 per cent capacity

Businesses:

  • Screen all employees
  • Limit capacity to maintain physical distancing
  • Masks for all staff and customers
  • PPE for staff protecting eyes, nose and mouth if they need to be within two metres of someone not wearing a mask
  • Manage lines to maintain physical distancing

Restaurants and bars:

  • Takeout, drive-thru and delivery open
  • Indoor and outdoor dining closed

Sport and recreational fitness facilities:

  • Fitness facilities, ski hills, golf courses and driving ranges are closed

Meeting and event spaces:

  • Closed

Stores:

  • Stores selling groceries and pharmacy items can operate at 50 per cent capacity
  • All other retail, including malls, liquor stores, cannabis stores, hardware stores operate at 25 per cent capacity
  • Curbside pickup and delivery is permitted
  • Fitting rooms need to be spaced out
  • Guests need to wear masks and answer screening questions before going into malls

Personal care services:

  • Closed

Casinos, bingo halls, gaming establishments:

  • Closed

Cinemas:

  • Closed

Performing arts facilities:

  • Closed

With files from CTVNewsToronto.ca