Ford signals major changes next week for Ontario on gatherings, fall plan and pharmacy testing

Ford

By the end of next week, Ontario could have asymptomatic testing in pharmacies, social gathering restrictions expanded and the government's fall preparedness plan delivered, says Premier Doug Ford. 

With lines at assessment centres surging and various health officials saying we're in a second wave, Ford said the province is responding as COVID-19 infections increase. 

"I am pushing the system like no one's ever pushed it in Ontario before and I'm going to continue to push the system," he said. 

On testing, Ford said hopefully by this time next week, testing at pharmacies will be happening to ease the burden off of long lines, sparked by kids going back to school and parents going back to work. 

With those without symptoms getting tested at Shoppers, Rexall and Wal-Mart locations, Ford says it will add hundeds of testing sites around the province. 

As for the expansive fall preparedness plan, which is supposed to include how the province will not only manage COVID-19, but do so with flu season and deal with the backlog of surgeries, Ford said next week is also the goal for it to be released.

"We're putting action into place," he said, after heavy criticism from opposition, saying the government  should've anticipated the lineups at centres as the school year restarted. 

"He's too busy doing his happy dance across the province of Ontario to put together a proper second wave plan," NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in Hamilton. 

The province reported 401 new cases on Friday, the first time Ontario has seen 400+ cases since June 7, driven by spikes in Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa. 

It comes a day after Ford announced that social gathering limits would be reduced in those areas from 50 indoor and 100 outdoor, to 10 and 25 respectively (along with hefty fines.)

But after requests from other municipalites such as York Region to be included in those restrictions, Ford said that would happen. 

"Yes, they're coming," he said. "We're going to be rolling out to other areas across the province from the requests of the mayors, I never make a decision without the mayors and the chief medical officers." 

More schools reported cases as well, now up to 60 schools with at least one case reported case (up from 51) and 72 cases overall (up from 62.) 

Ottawa's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches declared her city was already in a second wave. 

"Yes, we're seeing a rise in cases and it's the speed of the increase that concerns us, we can't sustain a rapid rise in cases, we need to be able to keep it to a manageable level," she said, echoing similar statements by Canada's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Theresa Tam about getting levels under control. 

In Toronto, Mayor John Tory said even with the new gathering measures, city staff is exploring what further options it has around tighter rules for mask-wearing and restrictions without provincial approval. 

Ford was in Ottawa, joined by premiers of Quebec, Alberta and Manitoba, pushing the federal government to increase Canada Health Transfers to cover 35 per cent of provincial health care costs, up from 22 per cent ($42 billion to $77 billion.)