Newmarket and the rest of York Region are not being placed under lockdown along with Toronto and Peel on Monday in a bid to stem rapidly rising COVID-19 case numbers, Premier Doug Ford announced this afternoon.
York Region remains in the red control zone it entered Nov. 16, with additional restrictions limiting public gatherings to five people indoors and 25 people outdoors.
Durham and Waterloo regions are moving to the red control zone, while neighbouring Simcoe County will move to the orange restrict zone, also effective Monday, Nov. 23, 2020 at 12:01 a.m., said Health Minister Christine Elliott.
"With the numbers rising rapidly in certain regions, we have to make the tough, but necessary decisions now to protect our hospitals, long-term care and retirement homes, and every person in this province," Premier Ford said. "We cannot afford a provincewide lockdown, so we are taking preventive action today by moving Toronto and Peel into lockdown level restrictions and other regions into higher levels of restrictions. We need to take decisive action to stop the spread of this deadly virus."
In anticipation of the possible lockdown, York Region Chairman and CEO Wayne Emmerson and medical officer of health Dr. Karim Kurji sent a letter yesterday to the premier to dissuade him from taking that step. It would appear the letter made an impact, because earlier this week, Ford suggested more restrictions on York Region along with Peel and Toronto.
When Newmarket was placed in the red control zone on Monday, Nov. 16, Newmarket Mayor John Taylor felt that it was a prudent move given the spike in cases Ontario was seeing. However, he said it was too soon to put York Region's nine municipalites into lockdown.
Now that a lockdown has been averted, at least for now, Taylor said there are several things York Region can do while still within the red control zone.
At regional council meeting Thursday, Taylor made a motion calling for increased enforcement and communication about the restrictions currently in place, as well as more enforcement and possible crowd limits at big box stores and banquet halls in the hopes of stemming the rapid increase of cases that could result in York joining Toronto and Peel in lockdown.
Regional council will be discussing Taylor's motion at a special meeting next week.
"A lockdown may go a little further from where we are in terms of a positive impact on COVID-19 numbers. But you have to look at where we are and weigh that positive impact against the impact it would have on the health of the local economy, businesses and the people out of work," the mayor said.
"I feel that there is more we can and should still do under the current red zone scenario ... One of the greatest things we can do is to get very, very serious about enforcement at all levels. There are businesses out there that are not following the guidelines, and they are risking everyone else's safety, and we need to fight it. Period."
Some Newmarket business owners, like Jone Wright, co-owner of Lemon-Lime Interior Design on Main Street, feared another lockdown would spell the end of their businesses.
"We have already been pushed to the max, so at this point, how much more bleeding can you do before you just pull the plug?" said Wright dejectedly.
"I have been in business for 40 years, and we have been through all sorts of wild recessions, but this one has been, by far, the worst hit for any kind of business."
"We are a small business, so we don't have a bank backing us. All we have is our life savings, so it's either keep drawing from that to pay the rent or walk away and just try to survive the pandemic. It's a pretty stark choice."
Wright said during the first lockdown, she didn't get a break on rent payments from her landlord, but they got through it. A lockdown this time might have finally put the business under unless the government comes through with rent supports for small businesses.
Newmarket Chamber of Commerce president Tracy Walter agreed that the government needs to step up with the supports needed to see businesses through any potential lockdown.
The Ontario government announced this after it will be providing $600 million in relief to support eligible businesses required to close or significantly restrict services due to enhanced public health measures, doubling its initial commitment of $300 million made in the 2020 budget.
Businesses in York Region can apply online for temporary property tax and energy cost rebate grants from the province for the length of time that a business is required to temporarily close or significantly restrict services as a result of being in red control or lockdown, or previously categorized as modified stage 2 public health restrictions, Finance Minister Rod Phillips announced.
Most businesses can expect to receive their rebate payments within a few weeks of submitting a complete application. A detailed list of eligible businesses, as well as instructions for applying, can be found at Ontario.ca/covidsupport.
Walter said a rent subsidy bill for tenants is being considered at Queen's Park, but argued that local businesses don't have the luxury to wait for government to approve supports after a lockdown is imposed; they need to be ready beforehand.
"The bills are mounting, and the debt is accumulating," Walter said. "This is a desperate situation for some businesses, and it has been eight months since the first wave hit."
There was plenty of online debate among residents about whether a lockdown is the right call or not. Some voiced concern about the rapidly increasing number of cases and the lack of regard they see for restrictions such as physcial distancing and masking.
"I work in retail and continually have to fight with the anti-maskers who don't care about anyone else but themselves. This is not what I signed up for. Shut everything down," Monica Achran Draper posted on social media prior to the announcement.
While others pointed to York Region's smaller numbers and didn't want to see Newmarket and other communities dragged down by problems elsewhere in the GTA.
"We should not be penalized for the behaviour of Vaughan and Markham. Lockdown those areas or better still have those that are breaking the rules penalized and ensure that they pay," posted Alverda Dark.
Lockdown restrictions include:
- Retail permitted to be open for curbside pick-up or delivery only, with certain exceptions such as for supermarkets, grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, discount and big box retailers selling groceri es, beer, wine and liquor stores, safety supply stores, and convenience stores, which will be allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity;
- Restaurants, bars, and food and drink establishments will only be able to provide takeout, drive-through and delivery. Indoor and outdoor dining services are prohibited;
- Personal care services closed;
- Casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments closed; and
- Indoor sports and recreational facilities, including pools, closed with limited exceptions.
Public health units will stay in their levels for a minimum of 28 days, or two COVID-19 incubation periods, at which time, the government will assess the impact of public health measures to determine if the public health unit should stay where they are or be moved to a different level, according to the province.
Based on the latest data, the following public health unit regions will move from their current level in the framework to the following levels effective Monday, Nov. 23, 2020 at 12:01 a.m.:
- Durham Region Health Department; and
- Region of Waterloo Public Health and Emergency Services.
- Huron Perth Public Health;
- Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit;
- Southwestern Public Health; and
- Windsor-Essex County Health Unit.
- Chatham-Kent Public Health;
- Eastern Ontario Health Unit;
- Grey Bruce Health Unit;
- Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health;
- Peterborough Public Health; and
- Thunder Bay District Health Unit.