Simcoe-Muskoka is back in COVID-19 red zone

There have been calls by area politicians and small businesses to revisit the COVID-19 framework

Many small businesses that had to close their doors when the region was placed in grey-lockdown a week ago can open again.

Simcoe Muskoka including Barrie and Orillia was moved into the red-zone of the Ontario COVID-19 response framework at 12:01 a.m. on Monday.

The recommendation by Dr. Charles Gardner, Simcoe Muskoka Medical Officer of Health, to move the area into grey-lockdown on Mar. 1 was met with anger from business owners, local politicians and others.

When the decision to move back to red was announced by the province on Friday, Gardner released a letter to those whose work at businesses impacted by the grey-lockdown, and he acknowledged their challenges.

“I wish to thank those who have reached out to me and provide me with their insights. The concerns raised included impacts of the Lockdown on businesses, income, health and mental health, and access to services. I regret the difficulty that is caused by our response to the pandemic, even as we strive to reduce the illness and the deaths that occur from this tragic pandemic. The pandemic has been extremely difficult on us all,” the letter stated.

He also stated, “We have the highest number of the variants of concern cases in Ontario.”

As of Friday, the local health unit reported 217 variant cases in the region, the type first detected in the U.K.

Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman stepped into the fray the night before the lockdown and said there are aspects of the grey level restrictions that are unjustified and damaging particularly to the small business community in Barrie.

Lehman also fired off a letter to the Premier, Barrie’s two MPPs and the local Medical Officer of Heath questioning the logic of the grey-zone framework.

“If all retail environments are able to remain open with reduced capacity, there seems little reason why other small businesses cannot remain open with the same protective measures in place.”

In the grey-zone, salons, barbershops, fitness centres and other businesses were required to close and restaurants were not allowed to have in-door dining.

The shift to red means restaurants can offer in-door meals with a capacity limit of 10 customers. Essential stores like pharmacies and supermarkets can open with 75 per cent capacity, and retail stores are allowed 50 per cent capacity.

The clash of colours was most prominent in the Collingwood area last week. The downtown BIA said while dozens of businesses had to close because of the grey-lockdown, the doors were wide-open to people a few kilometres away in Grey-Bruce which was classified as being in the green-zone.