One of Premier Doug Ford’s MPPs took it on the chin for not wearing a mask and Halton Region is staying clear of threatened new COVID-19 restrictions after cases across the province surged almost one-third on the weekend.
Ford was on the defensive, facing questions as to whether a letter-writing campaign by Halton politicians — including his own members — influenced his decision while critics called for discipline against Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff over a controversial picture on social media.
“We don’t base it on letters,” Ford maintained in regard to keeping Halton out of modified Stage 2 restrictions like those faced in Toronto, Peel, York and Ottawa with indoor dining, gyms and theatres shuttered.
Oosterhoff, the youngest member of the legislature, attracted attention for posting a shot of himself with about 40 people not physically distanced or wearing masks.
That sparked demands he be fired as parliamentary assistant to Education Minister Stephen Lecce for setting a bad example with infections soaring.
“I couldn’t imagine how it was possible for an MPP…to not be adhering to the rules,” said Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, noting the timing is curious.
The province reported 851 new cases Monday and six deaths on top of record-level infections of 1,042 Sunday and 978 Saturday, an increase of 704 or 32 per cent from the same days last weekend.
With NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Ontario Hospital Association president Anthony Dale also calling for Oosterhoff to be dropped as a parliamentary assistant, Ford told reporters his MPP apologized and it’s time to “move on.”
“I have 100 per cent confidence in Sam,” he added. “Everyone makes mistakes.”
Oosterhoff acknowledged he “should have worn a mask when we took a quick pic” and said the event at a Niagara banquet hall was otherwise physically distanced.
After warning Friday that COVID-19 numbers in Halton were “concerning” and that a decision would be announced Monday, Ford was repeatedly asked if pushback Saturday from mayors and MPPs in the region meant that politics — not science — played a role in keeping the area out of modified Stage 2 restrictions.
The premier said it was a different situation because there was broad agreement when the province imposed the measures Toronto, Peel, Ottawa and York.
“In Halton, this is unique because we have none of the mayors agreeing, we have the regional chair not agreeing, we have our MPPs not agreeing,” Ford said.
“That’s a wake-up call.”
The premier said he encouraged local politicians, including Oakville Mayor Rob Burton and Burlington MPP Jane McKenna, to write letters to Ontario chief medical officer Dr. David Williams and his Halton counterpart, Dr. Hamidah Meghani.
“It troubles me that the premier is mudding the waters instead of owning his role in the pandemic response,” said Green Leader Mike Schreiner.
Horwath accused Ford of “dithering” on wider closures of indoor dining, gyms and theatres amid political pressure as the province slides deeper into trouble with COVID-19.
Williams said later Monday that Halton has been “borderline” and remains under watch, with its medical officer also “not convinced” being ordered into modified Stage 2 was necessary.
“We said ‘OK, let’s wait and see, and see how your data flows over the next week or two’” added Williams, who noted he has not recommended new restrictions for Halton.
On her own last week, Dr. Meghani recommended the suspension of all indoor fitness classes in Halton, a temporary end to team sports games and dining indoors at restaurants only with members of your own household.
At a briefing on the latest case numbers, officials said the 7-day moving average of cases has risen to 878 daily, an increase of 20 per cent from the previous week.
Williams said he is watching the daily figures closely to see if they go down and stay down following the weekend spike, blamed on transmissions of the virus from person-to-person over the Thanksgiving weekend.
There were 281 new cases in Toronto, 215 in Peel, 90 in York Region and 76 in Ottawa. Halton had 27 new infections, Durham 23 and Hamilton 41.
Cases of COVID-19 in nursing homes continue to rise, with a total of 1,991 residents dead to date along with 41 new infections in residents and 2 in staff, raising the number of active cases diagnosed in the last 14 days to 381 and 295 respectively.
There were 86 of the province’s 626 nursing homes in outbreak, an increase of four.
Despite the fact that 45 hospitals did not report their latest data on COVID-19 patients, there were 295 people in hospital for the virus, up from 276 reported Friday. There were 78 in intensive care and 51 on ventilators to breathe.
Williams said there has been a “significant” increase in ICU admissions in recent weeks.
There were 72 new cases in schools, with 548 or just over 11 per cent of the province’s schools reporting infections. There were no schools closed because of outbreaks, down from four reported Friday.
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