Tighter COVID-19 restrictions are on the way for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU).

The provincial government has announced that the Health Unit is being moved to the Grey-Lockdown zone as of March 1st at 12:01 AM

That means that all essential stores like grocery stores are allowed to stay open, but only at 50-percent capacity. Other retailers like liquor stores are allowed to fill their stores to 25-percent of capacity. 

Passive screening must be done at all stores and the capacity limits must be posted.

No indoor events will be allowed at private residences, in your backyard, at parks or at staffed business facilities, but single households can pair with one another. A limit of 10 people are allowed to group together outside.

Eating in or outside at a restaurant or bar is prohibited.

If you’re visiting a long-term care centre you must have received a negative test in the past week and verbally confirm to have not tested positive since then. Another negative test will be needed on the day of the visit. 

The province also suggests reaching out to the home before visiting to make sure there are no on-going outbreaks and to find out if the home has differing visitation policies in place. 

Personal care centres will be closed.

Gyms and other recreation facilities will be closed with an exception for high-performance athletes and childcare. Outdoor recreation will remain open but tighter restrictions will be put in place.

SMDHU officials say the emergency brake is “short-term” and will be used to prevent the “possibility of a third wave.”

“I have heard from many people who are concerned about the impact on people’s livelihood, on their businesses, and physical and mental wellbeing and I sympathize with them,” the Health Unit’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Charles Gardner says. “I know that this is incredibly difficult and I sincerely wish we were not in this level of restriction. However, we are seeing increases of cases and outbreaks of the UK B1.1.7 variant in Simcoe and Muskoka in workplaces, long-term care facilities, a child care centre and an apartment building. Countries that have experienced high numbers of the variants of concern have then experienced a third wave of COVID-19 and we need to act early to prevent that from happening here.”

There are currently 184 cases of B.1.1.7 – the variant originally from the UK – in the region, as reported by SMDHU. In the Health Unit’s Friday update, two new cases of the variant were confirmed with another 290 highly probable cases awaiting further testing.

This change comes after the Simcoe Muskoka region was placed in the Red-Control level on February 12th.