Return to lockdown: Ontario pulls ’emergency brake’ on Simcoe Muskoka

BARRIE, ONT. — Ontario is pulling the ’emergency brake’ on Simcoe Muskoka, placing the region back into lockdown after less than two weeks in the red zone.

New restrictions will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Mon., March 1.

The region’s chief medical officer, Dr. Charles Gardner, said earlier this week that rising cases of COVID-19, and the B.1.1.7 variant were cause for him to pump the brakes on the reopening.

The provincial government created the ’emergency brake’ measure that allows it to immediately move a region into lockdown if cases spike.

The province shifted Simcoe Muskoka back to the red zone on Feb. 16.  At that time, Gardner said he would have preferred the stay-at-home order to remain in place and warned “we need to be prepared to go into a shutdown again in the near future.”

On Tuesday, he said the region’s trajectory “is not headed in the right direction” after a 30 per cent increase in weekly cases.

Gardner said the weekly incidence rate came the closest last week to that of the province for the first time since last summer, adding the region is typically “at half the rate of the province’s.”

The region’s top doctor attributed most cases to household clusters, saying people going to work and social interactions have led to a transmission cycle.

Public health reported a slight dip in weekly cases Friday but listed new UK variant cases. According to the health unit, 16 new tests screened positive for variants of concern Friday – that makes 290 that now require further testing to confirm.

Grey-Lockdown Restrictions

The province recently made changes for more lenient restrictions in the grey-lockdown zone.

In-person shopping is permitted for retail stores, but there are tighter capacity limits in this stage.

Essential stores, like grocery stores and pharmacies, can allow up to 50 per cent capacity, while all other stores are capped at 25 per cent, including big box retailers, liquor stores, hardware stores and garden centres.

In the grey zone, 10 people can gather outdoors but must remain socially distanced, and masks are highly recommended.

Additionally, ski hills, ice rinks and other outdoor recreational amenities can remain open with restrictions.

Restaurants, bars and food or drink establishments can only offer takeout, drive-thru or delivery service.

Personal care services, casinos, and bingo halls must close.

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