The London area could see provincial COVID-19 restrictions eased next week as new case counts plummet to levels not seen in three months, the region’s top doctor says.
The Middlesex-London Health Unit was placed in the red (control) level of Ontario’s colour-coded framework — one step below lockdown — Feb. 16 when Queen’s Park lifted the provincewide lockdown in place since Boxing Day.
But it soon could be moved to the orange (restrict) or yellow (protect) level, medical officer of health Chris Mackie said Monday.
“We are in red, but on track to move to a lower level of restriction, hopefully by Monday,” he said. “We’re certainly supportive (of the move). The numbers right now, according to the provincial framework, would likely put us in the yellow. Of course, things can change.”
More contagious COVID-19 variants — including ones originating in the U.K. and South Africa — are an “x-factor” in the trajectory of the second wave locally and provincewide, Mackie said.
Six variant cases have been identified in London to date. Four are linked to the first identified case, a man in his 80s with no travel history. Two other travel-related cases were identified this month; testing is underway to determine the specific strain involved.
The London-area health unit reported five new COVID-19 cases Monday and 26 over the weekend. The unit has reported six COVID deaths this month, but none since Feb. 12.
The last time daily case counts hovered between single digits and the low teens was in November, a month when seven COVID deaths were reported. The area started in the green category when colour-coded limits began Nov. 7, moving to yellow Nov. 16.
(Juanita Sims/The London Free Press)
In the past, Queen’s Park has announced changes to regional restriction levels on Friday to take effect the following Monday.
While the decision on where London ranks in the province’s framework ultimately rests with cabinet, the recent trend in local COVID-19 data is encouraging, Mackie said.
“It’s clear, based on the local data, we’re at a level of disease activity that is quite a low compared to what we have had,” he said.
Each level is based on seven public health criteria. When London and Middlesex County were placed in the red zone, some of its local metrics were already within orange benchmarks.
If the city is downgraded to a less restrictive category, the public shouldn’t take it as a signal to return to normal, Mayor Ed Holder said Monday.
“If our restrictions change, our commitment to public health guidelines must not,” Holder said.
“This can all change so quickly. If we’re so fortunate as to open more of our economy we want it to be sustainable and for the long term. . . . While the Ontario government controls what colour we’re placed into, . . . we . . . control our own behaviours.”
The possible move to orange or yellow comes as the area health unit ramps up its COVID vaccination program, administering about 1,000 doses a day at the Western Fair District Agriplex and Caradoc community centre clinics and through mobile vaccination teams at retirement homes.
The unit also is setting up mass vaccination sites at the North London Optimist community centre on Cheapside Street and the Earl Nichols arena in south London. Mackie said he expects at least one to open next month as vaccine supply allows.
BY THE COLOURS: COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS
Grey (lockdown): Restaurants are takeout only, indoor social gatherings are banned and outdoor ones are capped at 10 people. Grocery stores can open at 50 per cent capacity, other stores can operate at 25 per cent capacity.
Red (control): Restaurants and gyms can open with a 10-person capacity. Social gatherings are capped at five indoors, 25 outdoors. Supermarkets can open at 75 per cent capacity, other stores at 50 per cent. Spas and salons can stay open, but can’t offer services requiring clients to remove face masks.
Orange (restrict): Social gathering capped at 10 indoors, 25 outdoors. Maximum 50 people allowed indoors at gyms and restaurants, which can seat only four to a table. Restaurants and bars can’t serve alcohol after 9 p.m. and must close by 10 p.m.
Yellow (protect): Social gathering limits same as orange. Seating limited to six per table at restaurants, which must close at midnight.
Green (prevent): Social gatherings limits same as orange and yellow. No early closing for bars or restaurants. Cinemas, casinos and performing arts centres can open with 50 people indoors.