Ontario has announced major changes to how it will impose COVID-19 shutdowns, introducing a new tiered system for when to impose lockdowns and closures.
Under the new framework released on Tuesday, which has not been implemented yet, each of Ontario’s 34 public health units will be placed in one of five categories based off their current COVID-19 trends.
The new system will act as a dimmer switch, allowing regions to gradually increase or decrease restrictions as needed.
The five categories are prevent, protect, restrict, control, and lockdown.
“Based on current trends and the advice of the chief medical officer of health, we’re prepared as of Saturday Nov. 7 at 12:01 a.m. to move Ottawa, Peel and York Region to restrict level,” Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday at Queen’s Park. “This means gyms and indoor dining will be open with the capacity limits and restricted hours.”
Ford said Toronto Mayor John Tory has asked for more time and because of that will move to the restrict phase on Nov. 14.
Each of the new stages comes with a set of criteria, giving local health units and business owners some level of predictability when it comes to pandemic related restrictions.
In all scenarios, except a full lockdown, indoor dining and gyms can reopen with modified guidelines in place.
Under the proposed plan, schools and daycares will remain open.
Ontario’s gathering limits remain at 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors for private events, while organized events can have 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors, unless the region moves to the control phase.
Here is a closer look at the five new categories that will be implemented in Ontario:
In this category, the region must focus on education and awareness about public health safety measures. Restrictions reflect those of Stage 3, until there is a widely available vaccine or treatment. Highest risk settings remain closed.
To be assigned this status, the health unit must have a weekly incidence rate of fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 people. The test positivity rate must be under one per cent.
In this category, the region will enhance targeted enforcement, fines and education to limit further transmission.
Additional public health measures are required in high-risk settings, such as restaurants, gyms and movie theatres.
Regions placed in the protect category will have a weekly incidence rate between 10 and 39.9 cases per 100,000 people. The test positivity rate must be between one and 2.5 per cent.
When a region moves to this level, enhanced measure and restrictions are applied to slow the spread.
The weekly incidence rate in these regions must be between 40 and 99.9 cases per 100,000 people. The test positivity rate must be between 2.5 and 9.9 per cent.
At this level, hospital and ICU occupancy are increasing.
In the control phase, regions will implement broader-scale measures and restrictions across multiple sectors. This phase will be similar to a modified Stage 2.
The restrictions in this phase are the most severe before moving to a lockdown.
The weekly incident rate is more than 100 cases per 100,000 people. The positivity rate must increase above 10 per cent.
In this stage, hospital and ICU capacity are at risk of being overwhelmed.
Lockdown (Maximum measures)
If trends continue to worsen after measures from the control level are implemented, the region will move to a full lockdown. This means closing all non-essential businesses and reverting to Stage 1 or pre-Stage 1.
Where is each health unit placed?
The government has proposed that Ottawa, Peel Region, York Region, and Eastern Ontario Health Unit be placed in the restrict level on Nov. 7. Toronto will join these four regions on Nov. 14.
It’s proposed that Brant County Health Unit, Hamilton, Durham Region and Halton Region be put in the protect category.
All remaining health units are proposed to be in the prevent category.
There are no health units proposed to be in the control or lockdown level.
The government will finalize the list on Friday, based on public health data from this week.
New restrictions for bars and restaurants
Indoor dining will be allowed to resume at all restaurants and bars in Ontario when the government implements this new plan.
For regions in the prevent category, indoor dining continues similar to how it currently operates in Stage 3 regions. Patrons are required to be seated, with a minimum of two metres between tables.
Regions in the protect category must close establishments by midnight and only serve liquor between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. No liquor can be consumed after 12 a.m. A maximum of six people can be seated at a table, contact tracing is mandatory and music can’t be louder than the volume of a normal conversation.