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York Region mulls additional COVID-19 restrictions if it is placed in red zone
Feb. 19, 2021
Joshua Freeman

Officials in York Region said Thursday that if they return to the red zone of the province’s tiered framework next week, they should do so with added restrictions.

York Region Council met Thursday to discuss the region’s vaccine plan, as well as measures that will be in place next week should the region return to the red zone.

The hotspots of Toronto, Peel Region, and York Region are slated to return to the tiered framework on Feb. 22.

York Region is an outlier in that it has asked to be moved into the red zone, while Toronto and Peel Region have asked that strict measures stay in place, including a stay-at-home order.

Toronto's medical officer of health said Wednesday that she is more concerned now than she has ever been about the possible explosion of COVID-19 cases, given the increased prevalence of more highly contagious variants of the virus and the fact that there is not expected to be widespread vaccination among the population for months to come.

That prompted questions from York Region Council members Thursday about why Dr. Karim Kurji, York Region’s medical officer of health, is recommending a return to the red zone when neighbouring regions are pleading for the continuation of tough restrictions.

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, who last week moved a motion that York Region Council ask to return to the red zone, said Thursday that he now would like to see additional restrictions in place if that happens, particularly a ban on social gatherings and large sporting and event facilities.

“Looking at what's permitted in the red zone, I felt that we should have some further restrictions. So still allowing small business to open up, but not allowing social gatherings,” Scarpitti told CP24. “We cannot have social gatherings at this point until we further understand just how the COVID-19 variants are operating.”

He also called for restrictions on large gyms, personal care services and restricting big box retailers and malls to 25 per cent capacity, especially in light of the possibility that people from neighbouring regions might travel to the region if stores are closed where they live.

Speaking to CP24 Thursday evening, Kurji said the mayor's recommendations are already covered in the modified red zone.

"So, at this point in time, I'm not considering any additional measures with respect to any section 22 orders over and above what has actually been stated by the province," Kurji said. "In other words, the province is red zone seems fine in terms of my preliminary assessment."

Kurji says opening some businesses will reduce “underground activity”

Kurji said that part of the rationale for wanting to return to the tiered framework is that the shutdown has led to “underground activity” which takes place away from the eyes of public health officials.

“We believe that by moving into the red zone, we will give our businesses a little bit of breathing space, as it were, and it will also help us reduce some of the underground activity that we have come to see,” Kurji said. “For example, we have seen personal service workers go into people's homes.”

As an example, Kurji said there has been at least one case of a COVID-19 variant being transmitted by a personal care worker entering a private home.

In an email to, York Region Public health said the case refers to a Simcoe County resident who went into two homes in York Region to provide nail-care services while contagious and subsequently tested positive for a COVID-19 variant.

Kurji said his preference is to return to the red zone and closely monitor cases. He said if necessary, he will use his authority under Section 22 to implement further restrictions should cases start to trend upward.

Speaking with CP24, Vaughan Mayor Mauricio Bevilacqua said the region is relying on Kurji’s advice and that it would “erode public confidence” if officials didn’t follow his recommendation.

While Kurji is advocating for a return to the red zone next week, he emphasized that people should continue to limit their outings and interactions as much as possible.

“We continue to emphasize to the public that they must stay at home, as much as possible, even after the stay-at-home order is lifted and to go out only for essential visits, and to keep their encounters with people outside their households as brief as possible.”

The province is expected to announce as early as Friday what restrictions will be in place for Toronto, Peel Region, and York Region next week.