Ontario reported 1,588 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, a new single-day record for infections.
It breaks the previous record mark of 1,581 which was set a week ago.
Another 21 deaths were also reported, raising the provincial total to 3,472.
For the fourth straight day, Peel Region is the virus hotspot with a record 522 new cases, followed by Toronto with 450 and York Region with 153.
The new record comes as Toronto and Peel Region are set to move into lockdown on Monday, under the province’s colour-coded COVID-19 restriction system.
Provincial officials completed 46,671 tests in the last 24 hour period, with the positivity rate sitting at 3.4 per cent. It’s the third consecutive day the province processed more than 40,000 tests. More than 43,000 tests remain outstanding.
Hospitalizations fell slightly to 513 while the number of patients in the ICU climbed to 146. Of those, 87 are on a ventilator.
“This is basically the weekend before Christmas,” said Irina Rapaport, a shop owner in Toronto’s Danforth neighbourhood who, like other non-essential retailers, will move to online orders and pick-up only shopping on Monday.
But her hopes of customers flocking to local stores over the weekend to stock up on holiday gifts seemed increasingly unlikely as of Saturday afternoon.
Rapaport said she fears the restrictions will disproportionately affect small businesses like her eponymous shop — she designs the clothes herself and only allows one or two customers to enter the store at a time.
She said some big box stores that are allowed to stay open for in-person shopping seem more likely to draw dangerous crowds.
Jim Smith, who owns the clothing shop Envelop on the Danforth, said he understands why new restrictions are needed and is hoping that the province’s newly revised rent relief programs will help get him through what is usually his busiest month.
The Ontario government has said it will double the amount of relief available to businesses to $600 million if they are required to close or significantly restrict services.
While necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19, Smith said his store’s closure over the next 28 days will trickle down to the Toronto-based factories that help make his products.
While the shop had a solid flow of shoppers on Saturday morning, Smith said he will lose a lot of business.
“Today, (shoppers) will be focused on getting food, wine, shampoo,” Smith said, as small lineups formed outside neighbouring butchers and bake shops.
But even as small business owners balked at what they see as uneven restrictions, local politicians advocated for the rules.
“These new measures are the only way we can avoid school closures, further spread on our (long-term care homes) and overburdening our hospitals,” Mississauga, Ont., mayor Bonnie Crombie said in a statement.
Crombie, whose municipality lies in the heart of Peel Region, urged everyone to limit in-person contact to their immediate households and essential supports under the temporary “grey lockdown zone” rules.
Amr Elimam, who owns the restaurant Papyrus, said foot traffic from retailers on the Danforth during the holidays usually lifts the area’s restaurants and salons, too.
Elimam, who never opened his restaurant’s indoor dining out of caution over the virus, said he had urged local policy makers to act faster and earlier when cases first began rising in the autumn so a lockdown could be avoided during the holiday season.
“As a business owner, I was watching what other countries and what we were doing as a province – we knew we were heading to this point,” he said. “If the government had intervened earlier, they could have saved the Christmas season.”