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ONTARIO: Ford eases COVID-19 restrictions as case count hits new high

Ontario rolled out a new colour-coded system today

OTTAWA — Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he will ease restrictions on the province's COVID-19 hot spots, hours after health authorities reported a single-day record in new cases and in contrast with Quebec's recent extension of "red-zone" measures.

Ontario rolled out a new colour-coded system Tuesday that will determine when and to what extent coronavirus restrictions are placed on parts of the province.

Areas with the lowest case counts, positivity rates and community transmission levels will fall into a green category, with the most permissive rules. The system then moves upward through yellow, orange and red categories, with increasingly strict measures, topped off by a grey "lockdown" level where maximum measures would be implemented.

The framework goes into effect this weekend, allowing restrictions previously placed on hot spots including Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa to lighten. The softer rules mean gyms and cinemas can reopen and indoor dining will resume — with capacity limits — following closures under "modified Stage 2" measures imposed on Oct. 10.

Ontario reported an unprecedented 1,050 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, and 14 new deaths due to the virus.

About 80 per cent of the new cases were in the hot spots of Toronto and the surrounding regions of Peel, Halton, York and Durham.

Quebec reported 871 new COVID-19 infections and 34 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including five that occurred in the previous 24 hours.

The province, which last week prolonged red-zone restrictions until Nov. 23 for 12 of its 19 health regions, said the number of people in hospital rose by 27 to 526, and 85 people were in intensive care, a rise of four.

The country's top doctor unveiled new recommendations Tuesday around non-medical masks, saying they should be made of at least three layers and stressing their importance as the country heads indoors for winter.

Face masks should comprise two layers of tightly woven fabric such as cotton or linen, plus a third layer of a "filter-type fabric" such as non-woven polypropylene, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

“We’re not necessarily saying throw out everything that you have," Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, said at a news conference.

"The fit is the most important thing," she said, emphasizing a pinched nose and full coverage of nose and mouth, but also comfort and breathability.

In a departure from news conference habit, the country's top politicians and doctors wore their masks except when speaking, underscoring the role of face coverage.

"Because it’s winter, because we’re all going inside, we’re learning more about droplets and aerosols. It’s just another layer of protection," Tam said in Ottawa.

In Ontario, Ford's new framework sought to balance health priorities with pandemic fatigue, which has occasionally boiled over into protest.

The town of Aylmer, Ont., has declared a state of emergency ahead of a planned demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions this weekend.

Mayor Mary French moved the town of nearly 7,500 people to high alert this week in anticipation of what local police described as an "anti-masking freedom march" on Saturday.

The mayor made the declaration Monday in response to "the potential for civil unrest and service disruptions" tied to the demonstration.

On the same day, the federal Liberals tabled a bill that would extend the federal wage subsidy and stop a previously planned slide in the value of payments as concerns over small businesses' survival prospects escalate.

The bill also creates a new commercial rent-relief program to provide aid directly to businesses. The Liberals' last version relied on landlords to apply for help, which they didn't do in great numbers.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole is calling for the Liberals to put a pause on federal audits of small businesses hit hard by COVID-19.

He says too many small and medium-sized businesses are struggling to survive during the pandemic, and still have been hit by what he calls unfair audit requests from the Canada Revenue Agency.

Many small businesses, such as restaurants and in the tourism sector have been asking unsuccessfully for months for extra help through the federal wage-subsidy program to keep employees on payrolls, O'Toole says.

"And then the audit process. Can you imagine a small business holding on by a thread and having the tax collector descend on you with an audit? I think it's horrible. It's unfair," O'Toole said during a morning press conference.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 3, 2020.

The Canadian Press