Ontario is forcing businesses to close or reduce operations in three major cities after COVID-19 cases hit a record high on the eve of the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.

Canada’s largest province ordered indoor businesses including bars, gyms, casinos, movie theaters and restaurant dining rooms to close for 28 days, starting Saturday at 12:01 a.m. The measure applies to Toronto, Ottawa and Peel, a suburban region west of Toronto.

The government is also asking residents to leave their homes only for essential trips, Premier Doug Ford said at a news conference that followed an emergency cabinet meeting. He said the province would set aside $300 million (US$228 million) to help affected companies.

“It was the single toughest decision I’ve made since taking office, bar none,” said Ford, who added he was up all night thinking about it.

COVID-19 cases have been rapidly spreading in parts of Canada, particularly in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta. Since mid-August, the country’s effective reproduction number for COVID-19 has remained consistently over one, meaning that each new case is leading to the infection of more than one person.

Ontario, home to about 14.7 million people of Canada’s 38 million people, disclosed 939 new virus cases on Friday, a record, with Toronto representing 36 per cent of those. And that may understate the problem: the province is suffering from a large backlog of COVID-19 tests that still haven’t been processed.

Restaurants need 85% wage subsidy to avoid layoffs: Oliver & Bonacini

Andrew Oliver, president and CEO, Oliver & Bonacini discusses the impact of latest restrictions in Ontario, specifically out of Toronto, Peel, and Ottawa as COVID-19 case numbers rise.

Second Wave

“We know this is no small sacrifice, particularly as we are entering the Thanksgiving long weekend,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said of the government’s stay-at-home plea. “Please only celebrate with those in your household and gather with friends and family virtually.”

The latest modeling from the federal government shows infections could rise to as many as 197,830 and deaths to 9,800 deaths by Oct. 17, unless measures are taken to stop the spread of the virus. That would represent a 12.7 per cent increase in cases and 2.5 per cent rise in deaths from current levels in Canada.

“Every jurisdiction around the world is facing a second wave,” Adalsteinn Brown, dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. “Jurisdictions that are intervening earlier are actually getting better control of the pandemic.”

The biggest concern is that hospitals and intensive care units could get overwhelmed quickly, Brown said at the same news conference where Ford made the announcement. “The first threshold that starts to limit access to care happens within 30 days under any scenario,” but in the worst case it happens much faster, he added. “It’s a matter of weeks or days, not months.”

Closed for Business

Restaurants Canada, which represents more than 30,000 food service establishments, said the industry will suffer huge losses. “We hope that the government will step forward and have some supports, such as they did in Quebec,” said James Rilett, the group’s vice president for central Canada. Rilett said he expects restaurants that rely on sit-down customers will see an 80 per cent drop in revenue.

Cineplex Inc., Canada’s largest chain of movie theaters, said it was “very disappointed” with the announcement. The company is closing 22 theaters and three entertainment venues to comply with the order. All locations will be reopened once the 28 days are over, the company said.

“Our local theater teams have worked exceedingly hard since our reopening to keep over half a million Ontario movie-lovers safe across the province,” Chief Executive Officer Ellis Jacob said in a statement. “We feel that these forced closures, given our proven track record, are excessive and do not take into account for our teams’ efforts.”

Cineplex is not laying off employees at this time, spokesperson Sarah Van Lange said in an email.

In neighboring Quebec, Premier Francois Legault said recent measures, including the closing of restaurants and bars in some regions, are starting to show results. Still, new daily cases averaged more than 1,100 over the past week, confirming Quebec as the country’s hardest-hit province.

“My message before the long weekend is loud and clear: Stay home with the people you live with, resist the temptation to see your friends and family,” Legault said during a press conference Friday.