Toronto, Peel regions extend lockdown, stay-at-home order until March 8 despite increasingly devastating effects

Opioid-related deaths, suicides, and mental health crises have exacerbated since the pandemic started
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Ontario announced last Friday that Toronto and Peel region will remain in lockdown and under a strict stay-at-home order until at least March 8, despite rising unemployment, small business closures, opioid-related deaths, suicides, and mental health crises.

The decision follows a downward trend in COVID-19 cases, as a third wave may be on the horizon. Though the exact reason for the recent downward curve is unknown, many experts believe the PCR tests used to identify the virus are unreliable.

As cases of COVID-19 infections continue to go down in Ontario, experts urged the provincial government to extend the measures that were set to expire on February 22, while some statistics showed devastating effects due to constant lockdowns.

York Region moved into the red-control zone of the province’s colour-coded framework today.

Toronto’s top medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, and Peel region’s medical officer of health Dr. Lawrence Loh, requested that the province extend the current measures in their regions due to an increase in new variants.

Dr. Eileen de Villa took to Twitter last week to express her opinion on the situation. She tweeted: “I’ve never been more concerned about the threat of #COVID19 in TO. I’d love to say we’re ready to reopen, but today it’s better to delay until the time is right. Let’s keep doing all we can to protect our city so we can get back to brighter days sooner.”

Ontario schools reopened this month after an extended holiday break, with Toronto, Peel, and York regions opening school doors just last week.

As parents, students, and teachers begin to leave their homes to go to school, there is a greater increase in community circulation. However, experts in the committee stress that in-person teaching with the use of proper disinfection and hygiene is the best option for young students.

While some experts believe that an extended lockdown will protect Ontarians, others are worried about the negative effects that come along with it.

The impact of extended closures

As people are being forced to continue to limit their social gatherings and only leave their houses for essential reasons, such as to go to the grocery store or pharmacy, such measures are showing negative effects on many.

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, there has been an increase in mental health crises and “more suicide-related behaviours since the onset of the pandemic.” The report also outlined that people who fall within certain groups, such as Indigenous people, racialized groups, members of 2SLGBTQ+ communities, people with a disability, and people with mental health problems, are more likely to suffer these negative consequences.

The report also found that distress centres across the country have seen surges in calls directly related to anxiety surrounding the pandemic and its related financial and social consequences. 

According to Statistics Canada, there has also been an increase in mental health issues among Canadians, especially youth, and those who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. 

There has also been an increase in opioid-related deaths in Canada, with the Public Health Agency of Canada citing a 58% increase in deaths compared to January to March 2020.

In addition, small businesses have struggled throughout the pandemic, with Statistics Canada highlighting that an estimated 25,614 businesses have shut down across the province of Ontario since February 2020, leaving thousands unemployed. 

The founder and president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), John Carpay spoke about lockdown effects in a livestream with YouTuber Viva Frei last week, in which he expressed his opinion on case numbers, stating that PCR tests are an unreliable source for COVID-19 diagnoses.  

PCR tests are widely used across Canada and the world to detect the virus, but Carpay noted that they can pick up on remnants of other viruses, stating that they are “highly unreliable.”

(PHOTO: Courtesy of Craig Wadman/CITYNEWS)

While the topic of lockdowns remains controversial, medical experts are urging Ontarians to follow the lockdown and stay-at-home orders and only leave their homes for essential reasons in order to prevent a third lockdown.

Concerns about a third wave

With new variant cases increasing across Ontario, experts warn that a third wave is looming and may hit in the coming months if the province does not gain control of the spread.

Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, the co-chair of the province’s science advisory table, and Dr. David Willians, the province’s chief medical officer, spoke about COVID-19 modelling at a briefing earlier this week.

While the new modelling indicated that COVID-19 cases are going down, it indicated that variants, which were first detected in the UK, South Africa, and Brazil, are already in Ontario.

The new variants are also said to spread faster than the initial virus. 

The new modelling also indicated that the B.1.1.7. variant, commonly known as the UK variant, could become the dominant strain in Ontario by spring if the province fails to maintain control of the virus, noting that there are already at least 236 cases of it.

There are also currently three cases of B.1.3.5.1, also known as the South African variant, in Ontario.

Dr. Williams said that the province is in a “precarious time.”

Photograph of Dr. Williams at a briefing earlier this week (PHOTO: Courtesy of Chris Young / The Canadian Press)

The modelling suggested that the most likely scenario is that the province will see approximately 5,000 to 6,000 cases of the variant per day by the end of March, with the worst-case scenario leading to 18,000 cases per day.

Dr. Brown warned that a third wave could lead to a third lockdown.

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