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ONTARIO: Doctors' group calls for stricter COVID-19 measures as cases rise

The Ontario Medical Association says the tiered and colour-coded framework that determines when regions across the province can loosen or tighten restrictions is too lax

TORONTO — A group representing tens of thousands of Ontario physicians is calling for the government to lower the thresholds for imposing stricter COVID-19 measures, as the province reports another record tally of new daily infections.

The Ontario Medical Association says the tiered and colour-coded framework that determines when regions across the province can loosen or tighten restrictions is too lax, particularly at a time when case counts are surging.

It says the criteria to move from one alert level to the other should be much lower - as much as 50 per cent lower in some cases - and the higher levels should include a ban on indoor dining in restaurants and bars. 

The group's comments come on the heels of a Toronto Star report that said the provincial government ignored the advice of its own public health agency in designing the system introduced last week.

The newspaper reports that while Health Minister Christine Elliott said the framework was created after consulting with two health-care advisory groups, one group said it wasn't consulted and a member of the other said she never saw the final plan before its release.

A spokeswoman for Elliott said public health experts such as Ontario's chief medical officer of health and the public health measures table "provided input on the overall concept and direction for the framework."

"The framework was also informed by data, evidence, and information, including from other jurisdictions, and approved by Cabinet," Alexandra Hilkene said in a statement.

Asked whether the minister would consider reviewing the framework and its criteria, Hilkene said the province continues to monitor the situation and will advise "if and when public health measures need to be adjusted."

The Ontario government has faced ongoing criticism over its new system, which places local health units in green, yellow, orange, red, or lockdown categories based on metrics such as the number of cases per 100,000 people.

Ford has said the system is meant as a baseline for local health authorities to build on with additional, targeted measures. Public health officials in Peel Region and Toronto have already announced additional restrictions for their areas.

Opposition legislators said Thursday the province needs to come clean regarding the advice it received from the public health measures table and other experts regarding the new system.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said it's clear Premier Doug Ford is "passing the buck" because he doesn't want to be held responsible for making politically difficult decisions such as imposing tougher restrictions.

She urged the province to enact a two-week partial lockdown in COVID-19 hot spots such as Toronto and Peel Region, to serve as a "circuit breaker" and put the brakes on transmission. 

The province should pay businesses so they can afford to shut down, she said.

Ontario reported another a daily record of COVID-19 cases on Thursday, with 1,575 new infections recorded. The province also reported 18 new deaths related to the novel coronavirus.

Elliott said there were 472 new cases in Toronto, 448 in Peel Region, 155 in York Region and 91 in Ottawa.

The province said 917 more cases are considered resolved, and the nearly 39,600 tests have been completed since the last daily report.

In total, 431 people are hospitalized in Ontario due to COVID-19, including 98 in intensive care.

Ninety-four long-term care homes are currently experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19, with 695 active cases among residents and 435 among staff.

The latest figures bring the total of COVID-19 cases in Ontario to 89,784, with 3,293 deaths, and 75,228 cases resolved.

Meanwhile, Ontario is set to release new COVID-19 projections Thursday.

Dr. Adalsteinn Brown and other top provincial health officials are expected to provide new modelling in the afternoon.

The new projections for how the virus might spread in Ontario come as the province has reported daily case increases above 1,000 for the past week.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 11, 2020. 

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press