Ontario Brings In Color-Coded Virus System, Eases Restrictions

Ontario unveiled a new five-color system for deciding when to ramp up or relax Covid-19 restrictions and said it will allow restaurants, gyms and other businesses to reopen in some regions where they’re currently closed.

The new system has five levels, ranging from the least serious green “prevent” tier to the most restrictive “lockdown” grouping. Different business sectors will face specific restrictions and safety measures for each level.

Under the framework, some regions currently operating under tight rules, including Ottawa and Peel, will see restrictions ease to the middle tier on the scale -- orange “restrict” -- on Nov. 7. That will see the reopening of dining rooms, gyms, movie theaters and other activities, with capacity limits.

Toronto, which reported 408 new virus cases on Tuesday, is expected to keep tougher restrictions in place until Nov. 14, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said at a news conference.

Ontario Brings In Color-Coded Virus System, Eases Restrictions

The new system “takes a gradual approach to public health matters, cautiously escalating or reducing restrictions as we see changes in the local data,” Ford said. “We will stay on top of the trends to determine where regions stand.”

Ford’s government has faced anger from the restaurant sector, in particular, after clamping down for a second time last month in virus hot spots including Toronto and Ottawa. At the time, he said it was “the single toughest decision” he’d made since taking office in 2018.

Critics argue there is not compelling evidence that significant spread is occurring in these locations. In Toronto, data released last week showed restaurants, bars and clubs accounted for 14% of outbreaks between Aug. 1 and Oct. 24, compared to 22% from schools and daycares and 18% at long-term care and retirement homes.

Ontario Brings In Color-Coded Virus System, Eases Restrictions

That said, problems with contact tracing have made it difficult to track down the source of many new cases. Toronto Mayor John Tory said the city’s public health officials will review the provincial framework “including timing considerations” and address the changes on Wednesday.

“I have been clear throughout that I want restaurants and gyms to open safely and stay open safely -- safely being the key word. I continue to hope that will be possible in the days ahead,” Tory said.

Tax Rebates

Ford’s government also said it will make C$300 million ($228 million) available to businesses that were forced to close or curtail activities in October and to those operating in areas that fall under the two most serious categories, “control” or “lockdown,” in the future. The measures include rebates on property taxes and energy costs.

The new Covid-19 monitoring system comes two days before Ontario releases its provincial budget, which will be heavily focused on pandemic response, Finance Minister Rod Phillips said.

The budget “will expand on the support our government has provided for those still facing financial hardship as a result of the pandemic, including families, workers, vulnerable people, seniors and employers,” he said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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