Chamber welcomes COVID-19 reopening plan, but Hirji says it is risky

Chamber welcomes COVID-19 reopening plan, but Hirji says it is risky

It is a “very risky time” for Niagara to reopen its economy, says the region’s top public health official, given a high COVID-19 infection rate along with the threat of GTA visitors bringing new, more infectious virus variants with them.

Dr. Mustafa Hirji said it is not clear what colour-coded level of reopening Niagara will find itself in next week — current data points to the grey, lockdown zone — but noted provincial plans failed to keep COVID-19 at bay prior to the current lockdown.

“I keep returning to the U.K. example,” Hirji said Monday after Premier Doug Ford announced his reopening plan. “They did a four-week lockdown, then reopened when cases were still relatively high and then, after two weeks, had to immediately shut down everything again.

“We should learn from that lesson.”

On Monday, Ford announced Ontario would start to return to its colour-coded system of restrictions. Save for a few northern regions with low COVID-19 case counts, the rest of the province, including Niagara, will remain in its current lockdown until Tuesday, Feb. 16. At that point, the province will move those regions into the green, yellow, red or grey zones depending on their pandemic data.

Only the COVID-19 “hot spots” of Toronto, Peel and York will remain in the current state of lockdown until Feb. 22.

Although Niagara’s infection and death rates are among the province’s worse — on par or worse than communities such as Toronto and Peel — the province does not consider it to be a hot spot.

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