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TORONTO -- Ontario's two biggest COVID-19 hot spots are moving to temporarily close businesses with recent outbreaks of the virus in an effort to rein in surging case counts they said were fuelled by workplace spread.
Toronto and Peel Region announced within hours of each other Tuesday that they would issue updated orders requiring businesses that have seen five or more linked cases in the past 14 days to shut down for 10 days.
During that time, workers would have to self-isolate, they said.
"Workplaces that are open provide an opportunity for COVID-19 to spread," Toronto's top doctor, Dr. Eileen de Villa, said in a statement.
"Given that the majority of our cases are now as a result of variants of concern, which transmit faster, this order will support Toronto Public Health's investigators to help workplaces immediately reduce the risk of spread and manage workplace outbreaks quickly."
Peel Region officials also said workplace exposures continue to drive high case counts in the area.
Toronto will issue its order by Friday, it said. Peel Region said businesses could be told to close as early as Friday, and those affected will be contacted directly before they are publicly identified.
Those deemed essential for the well-being of the community, such as businesses in health care and emergency child care, will be exempt from full closure in Peel, the region said, while Toronto officials said only that they may be exempt.
Peel's top doctor, Dr. Lawrence Loh, urged employers ordered to shut down to provide paid sick leave to their staff, "in the absence of legislated paid sick days."
The move comes a day after the Ontario government rejected efforts to bring in paid sick leave for essential workers and shut down non-essential businesses.
The province has faced increasing pressure from health experts and advocates to implement paid sick days and close non-essential workplaces amid a third wave that threatens to overwhelm the health-care system.
The governing Progressive Conservatives shot down Opposition motions on both issues on Monday, and then again on Tuesday.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said inaction by the province has forced Peel's top doctor to issue orders to protect workers himself.
"Dr. (Lawrence) Loh of Peel had to step in because the premier marched us right into this third wave with his eyes wide open, and he is now marching us in the wrong direction," she said.
The government has frequently said it won't bring in a provincial paid sick day program because a federal program exists.
Labour Minister Monte McNaughton criticized Ottawa on Tuesday for not enhancing the federal program in the budget introduced Monday.
Ontario's top doctor, meanwhile, said Monday that the province could look into closing more non-essential businesses, but suggested there isn't a "clear-cut answer" as to what is essential.
Ontario reported 3,469 cases of COVID-19 and 22 more deaths linked to the virus on Tuesday.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said there were 1,074 new cases in Toronto, 775 in Peel Region, and 406 in York Region.
Provincial data released last week showed Peel Region -- which includes Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon -- had the highest COVID-19 positivity rate at 15 per cent, with Toronto coming in second at 11.3 per cent.
The region west of Toronto also had the highest number of weekly new cases per 100,000 residents, the data showed.
One of the public health experts involved in preparing the province's COVID-19 projections said last fall that the virus is hardest to control in areas such as Brampton where the proportion of essential service workers is higher and households are larger.
Meanwhile, Ontario residents aged 40 and older were eligible to get the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at pharmacies and doctors' offices starting Tuesday.
The minimum age to receive that vaccine was previously 55 because of a slightly elevated risk of an extremely rare blood clot disorder.
The province announced the change in eligibility on Sunday after the federal health minister said the move was well within the provinces' jurisdiction. Health Canada has licensed the AstraZeneca shot for use in people over the age of 18.
There were 90,409 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine administered in Ontario since Monday's report.
However, the Ministry of Health said that some vaccine clinics were forced to use paper-based reporting due to a Rogers outage on Monday and Tuesday's vaccine figures were, as a result, an underestimate.