Rapid rise of coronavirus strains & key indicators worsening – signs point to grey-zone return for Peel
The Pointer file photos/City of Mississauga-YouTube

Rapid rise of coronavirus strains & key indicators worsening – signs point to grey-zone return for Peel

Dr. Lawrence Loh isn’t having any of it.

Despite angry calls from some Peel politicians, demanding a rapid withdrawal from current pandemic restrictions, the Region’s top public health official is reminding the public, and local leaders, that his job is to keep everyone safe.

On Wednesday, he pushed back against those calling for a faster loosening of restrictions, joining Toronto public health officials also advising a move into the grey zone once the current stay-at-home-order is lifted March 8.

When Peel is moved out of the extended order imposed by Queen’s Park to stop the second wave of the pandemic in Ontario’s hardest hit region, it will likely face strict restrictions in the highest safety category under the Province’s colour-coded reopening scheme.

Loh offered some disappointing numbers during a press conference in Brampton Wednesday morning, revealing strains of the novel coronavirus have rapidly spread in Peel while test positivity in the ravaged city is once again on the rise, even before the stay-at-home-order has been lifted.

He recommended the region be moved into the grey-lockdown-zone of Ontario's colour-coded COVID-19 response framework.

Two weeks ago only five cases of the variant strains were reported, but numbers have gone up at an alarming rate since, Loh said, with more than 100 confirmed cases caused by the variants of concern, which include strains from the UK, South Africa and Brazil, which transmit more easily and faster than the first novel coronavirus. He said there are approximately 600 more presumptive cases now, caused by these newer strains.

A few weeks ago, Dr. Loh warned against relaxing safety measures.


He reported Brampton's test positivity has climbed to 8.7 percent, from 7.4 percent the previous week, and the latest weekly infection incidence rate is 128.1 cases per 100,000 people, a significant increase from 115.1 the previous week. Test positivity above 2.5 percent in a jurisdiction shows viral transmission is not under control, while an incidence rate of 40 per 100,000 residents automatically puts an area into the red zone. 

"These numbers give me pause," Loh said.

"As we exit the province's stay-at-home-order, I am recommending that we enter the Province's framework under grey for a two-week period," he said.

The Province is expected to announce next steps for Peel, Toronto and North Bay, the only places in Ontario still under a stay-at-home order, on Friday. It seems likely Peel will be moved into the grey category, under Loh’s advice.

"Unfortunately, we are seeing a reversal of the favourable trends that we've observed in the last five weeks," Loh said Wednesday.

"This is driven by the growth of variants of concern and the loosening of measures in other jurisdictions."

"In this race between vaccines and variants, we know that we have limited vaccine supply at this time and rapidly accelerating variants."

He said past lessons have shown what happens when the scientific evidence is ignored.

"Reopening too quickly erases the gains that we've made, putting lives and well-being at risk. The UK saw a third wave when they reopened with variants in their midst and nobody, myself included, wants to see that. We must try to keep what happened there from happening here."

The Province would have to use its “emergency brake” on Peel if numbers show a third wave on the horizon, which could shut businesses and services down completely, once again, Loh said, advising against short-sighted thinking, even though many businesses are struggling to survive, while some have already gone under.

Later in the day, Loh faced some angry comments from Mississauga councillors, particularly Ron Starr and Carolyn Parrish, who expressed their displeasure over Loh’s refusal to accommodate their request last week, when council moved to have the city skip the grey zone and be moved directly into the less restrictive red zone.

But Mayor Bonnie Crombie, who supported the recommendation, said Wednesday she defers to Dr. Loh and understands he has the knowledge and more complete picture to make the right decisions. It was hard to hide her frustration during an afternoon press conference as infections have worsened in Mississauga over the past week.

Crombie has said many local businesses are on the brink and implored residents to help drive the numbers down so a safe reopening can take place.

Parrish and Starr were not as reasonable, seemingly unfazed by a year of evidence around the world that has shown short-sighted decision making has led to more pain for businesses.

Loh has explained in the past that reopening too early can lead to increased community spread, even if businesses think they are being diligent. And the transmission of highly contagious new strains adds another layer of risk. The potential loss of lives even to help desperate business owners, many of them facing depression and other underlying problems, is something Loh said he has to avoid, at all costs.


Ontario's Grey-Lockdown Restrictions



  • No indoor organized public events and social gatherings, except with members of the same household
    • Individuals who live alone, including seniors, may consider having exclusive, close contact with another household to help reduce the negative impacts of social isolation
  • Limit for outdoor organized public events and social gatherings, physical distancing can be maintained:
    • 10 people outdoors
  • Limits for religious services rites or ceremonies, including wedding services and funeral services, where physical distancing can be maintained (applies in any venue other than a private dwelling):
    • 10 people indoors
    • 10 people outdoors
  • Virtual and drive-in events and religious services, rites or ceremonies permitted
  • Indoor and outdoor service prohibited
  • Take out, drive through and delivery permitted, including alcohol
  • Facilities for indoor or outdoor sports and recreational fitness activities are closed except for:
    • The sole use of high performance athletes including parasport athletes, and specified professional leagues (for example, NHL, CFL, MLS, NBA)
    • Specified purposes (for example, day camps, child care)
  • Outdoor recreational amenities (for example, ice rinks, ski hills, snow trails) open with restrictions (for example, no team sports)
  • Community centres and multi-purpose facilities (for example, YMCA) allowed to be open for permitted activities (for example, child care services, day camps, social services)

  • New to Grey-Lockdown as of February 2021:

  • In person shopping permitted for all retail, subject to capacity limits of:
    • 50% for supermarkets and other stores that primarily sell groceries, convenience stores and pharmacies
    • 25% for all other retail, including discount and big box retailers, liquor stores, hardware stores and garden centres
  • Curbside pick-up and delivery permitted
  • Stores must post capacity limit publicly
  • Stores must have passive screening for patrons (for example, posting signs outside the store front about not entering if you have COVID-19covid 19 symptoms)
    • This does not apply to indoor malls, which are required to actively screen their customers before they enter the mall. Malls can use the patron screening tool to help meet this requirement.
  • Individuals must physically distance and wear a face covering, with some exceptions
  • No loitering in shopping malls, and stores within the malls subject to appropriate retail measures


  • Cinemas closed, except for:
    • drive-in cinemas
    • rehearsal or performing a recorded or broadcasted event, with restrictions, which include:
      • Performers and employees must maintain 2 metres physical distance except for purposes of the performance
      • Singers and players of brass or wind instruments must be separated from any other performers by plexiglass or other impermeable barrier
  • safety plan is required to be prepared and made available upon request
  • Performing arts facilities closed to spectators
  • Rehearsal or performing a recorded or broadcasted event permitted, with restrictions, which include:
    • Performers and employees must maintain 2 metres physical distance except for purposes of the performance
    • Singers and players of brass or wind instruments must be separated from any other performers by plexiglass or other impermeable barrier
  • Drive-in performances permitted
  • safety plan is required to be prepared and made available upon request
  • Personal care services closed.



Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @JoeljWittnebel 

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