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COVID-19 'emergency brake' applied in Thunder Bay, Simcoe-Muskoka regions

Last Updated Feb 26, 2021 at 5:13 pm EDT

"Locked down until further notice" reads a sign on a closed business in an Ontario COVID-19 hotspot. CITYNEWS

The Ford government has pulled the “emergency brake” in the Thunder Bay District Health Unit and Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit, moving both regions into the Grey-Lockdown zone following a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Local leaders in Thunder Bay have been calling for the government to take action amid a spike in cases while Simcoe Muskoka has also seen infections rise.

“This is due to a rapid worsening in key public health indicators, as well as a high presence of variants in the Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit that continue to increase – the highest in the province,” read a statement released by the province late Friday afternoon.

As of February 23, there has been a total of 170 confirmed cases of a variant of concern in the Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit.

Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins and Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler have requested support as they say cases among vulnerable populations have overwhelmed local resources.

Outbreaks have been declared at correctional facilities, among the homeless population in Thunder Bay, and at number of local schools.

In a joint statement issued Thursday, the chiefs pointed to inadequate resources for people released from correctional facilities who are being sent to isolate in Sioux Lookout, Thunder Bay and Timmins hotels.

“Thunder Bay is in a precarious situation, and there is growing concern as government ministries, health organizations and health units struggle to contain the spread of this virus,” Fiddler said.

“Moving back to lockdown across northwestern Ontario will be painful, but is necessary as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.”

The government placed the Thunder Bay region in the second-strictest “Red” category of its pandemic restrictions system two weeks ago when it lifted a stay-at-home order for much of the province.

“We’re in a difficult spot right now,” Thunder Bay Mayor Bill Mauro said Friday in a telephone interview.

He said the city has reported more cases in February than throughout all of 2020. There were 349 cases active in the city of more than 121,000 on Friday, according to the local health unit.

“Clearly there is a situation here that we don’t see ending in the near term,” Mauro said of the trend.

The government added nine other public health units would be moving to new levels within the provincial framework, effective Monday, March 1.

Measures will loosen in Niagara Region, which will move from a lockdown to the second-strictest “red” category of the restrictions system, allowing indoor dining and gyms to open with limits. Restrictions will also loosen in Chatham-Kent; Middlesex-London; Southwestern; Haldimand-Norfolk; Huron Perth; and Grey Bruce health units.

Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit; and
Thunder Bay District Health Unit.

Niagara Region Public Health.

Chatham-Kent Public Health;
Middlesex-London Health Unit; and
Southwestern Public Health.

Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit; and
Huron Perth Public Health.

Grey Bruce Health Unit.