TORONTO — A crackdown on social gatherings will be expanded to new areas of the province, Premier Doug Ford said Friday as the province's daily virus case count jumped to levels not seen in months.
Ford said the newly announced restrictions — which came into effect Friday in the virus hot spots of Toronto, Ottawa, and Peel Region — have been requested by mayors and medical officials from other areas.
In the face of what have been daily increases in new virus cases in recent weeks, Ford said he will discuss expanding the measures with his cabinet, but gave no further details.
"We're going to be rolling (it) out to other areas across the province from the request of the mayors," he said. "I listen to the medical experts. I'll base this on the health and science."
Under the measures announced Thursday, only 10 people will be allowed to gather indoors, down from the previous limit of 50; the number for outdoor gatherings will drop to 25 from 100.
The government also set minimum fines of $10,000 for gathering organizers and $750 for those who attend, as Ford and provincial health officials blamed the increased COVID-19 rates on social gatherings where people disregarded public health guidelines.
Ontario reported 401 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, a daily increase not seen since early June.
Ford made the comments in Ottawa on Friday alongside the premiers of Quebec, Alberta and Manitoba, as they asked for more federal funding for health care.
He said the spike in cases underscores the need for greater federal support of the health-care system.
"You've seen cases jump from 300 to over 400 just over a few days," he said. "It's very concerning. We need the support from the federal government."
Ford also met with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and the city's medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches to discuss the long waits for testing that have been affecting local assessment centres for days.
Etches said Friday that she believes that city is experiencing a second wave of the virus.
"We're seeing a rise in cases and it's the speed of the increase that concerns us," she told CTV News. "We can't sustain a rapid rise in cases. We need to be able to keep it to a manageable level."
The premier said the province has sent three mobile testing units to help address the situation, and he hopes to expand testing to pharmacies across the province by late next week.
"I am pushing the system," Ford said during a news conference.
On Thursday, the mayor of Markham, Ont., expressed disappointment that York Region was not included in the new restrictions, saying in a statement that he did not want the municipality to become the province's next hot spot.
The Middlesex-London Health Unit requested Friday that the province include it in the new restrictions as well, after it reported 47 new COVID-19 cases this week.
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit on Friday urged people in that region to begin to lessen contact with others, even within their 10-person social bubbles.
Dr. Colin Lee, Simcoe Muskoka's associate medical officer of health, said there have been 42 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in that region for the week of Sept. 13 — the highest weekly total since early May.
"We need people to scale back on their get-togethers/gatherings, and to remember to be cautious with people not in their household, even if they are in their social circle of 10," Lee said in a statement. "Social circles are not invincible to COVID-19."
Ford also promised Friday that his plan to address a possible second wave this fall will be released by the province next week.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the strategy is coming far too late.
"The Ford government has been chasing crisis after crisis," she said. "They have not been able to get out ahead of COVID-19."
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the spiking case count illustrates why the Ford government's second wave plan was needed weeks ago.
"Instead of building up our testing system for this inevitable upswing, the Premier spent the summer on a campaign tour patting himself on the back," Schreiner said in a statement.
The province also reported 11 new COVID-19 cases in schools, including at least five among students.
That brings the total number of schools with a reported case to 60 out of Ontario's 4,828 publicly-funded schools.
One school in Pembroke, Ont., remains closed due to an outbreak.
Canada's largest school board also announced its first student case of COVID-19 on Friday.
The Toronto District School Board said the student was briefly at York Memorial Collegiate Institute on Monday and will not return until cleared by the public health unit.
The total number of cases in Ontario now stands at 46,077, which includes 2,825 deaths and 40,600 cases classified as resolved.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2020.
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version stated that the previous limit on indoor gatherings was 25 people; in fact, it was 50.