Residents in Toronto and Peel Region appeared supportive of new COVID-19 measures Monday but were anxious about the course of the pandemic as the two hot spots entered a four-week lockdown aimed at curbing soaring infections.

Masked customers queued up outside a shopping centre in east Toronto as a security guard controlled foot traffic.

Most businesses besides Wal Mart and Food Basics in the Gerrard Square mall are restricted to curbside pickup for the next 28 days under the new measures. 

The lockdown, which was announced Friday, also bans indoor dining at restaurants and close personal care services but schools and daycares remain open. 

Outside the shopping centre, intensive care nurse Sue Wegenast, who works with “the sickest of the sick” at Toronto General Hospital, said she fully supports the lockdown, and would like to see stricter measures. 

“It’s a good thing, it’s about time,” she said. “In the last week, cases in my ICU have gone up double.”

As of Monday, the province reported that 507 people were hospitalized with the virus. That troubling figure accompanied a daily increase of 1,589 cases and 19 additional deaths from COVID-19.

Wegenast said her patients continue to struggle with long-term physical and cognitive effects even after their COVID-19 case is officially considered resolved. She said the illness is “nothing to mess around with.” 

“You don’t want to be one of those people, because your life and everybody else’s around you will change dramatically.”

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, said case numbers in recent weeks, including an increase of nearly 2,200 in the past five days,  

“The need for the restrictions enacted by the province is not in question, even though it comes at the cost of additional hardships for people as a result,” she said.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said Monday that the city will expand testing opportunities during the second lockdown, including transporting people to testing sites.

He said the city has beaten back a major wave of infections before and can do it again.

“We had the discipline in the spring, and there’s no reason we can’t have the same discipline now, starting with staying home,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said.

Near Gerrard Square, Jean Lim described the lockdown stage of the second wave of COVID-19 in one word: “Scary.” 

Lim works as a personal service worker at a nursing home where strict COVID-19 precautions are part of her daily life. She said the measures make her feel safer but she’s still worried about taking the virus home to her family. 

“Obviously, it’s so hard,” she said on her way inside the centre to buy groceries. “It’s changed a lot.” 

In Mississauga, Ont. – one of the three communities that make up Peel Region – shoppers at a grocery store said they hoped the lockdown would slow the spread of the virus in their city. 

“I guess it’s a necessary evil, the way the numbers are going up,” said Stan Windsor. “Hopefully the next 28 days …give us a little bit of a Christmas.”

Peel Region reported 535 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. 

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie issued a statement in support of the new measures, saying they are necessary at this stage of the pandemic.

“I firmly believe that these new measures are the only way we can avoid school closures, further spread in our long-term care centres and overburdening our hospitals,” said Crombie said.

Aco Lukaroski, 60, from Mississauga, expressed concern that the measures should have come earlier.

“I think that it’s too late, actually.”

There was also some pushback on Monday about the restrictions on businesses affected by the lockdown order. 

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business called on the provincial government to include small businesses in its COVID-19 response plan, noting that the smaller venues could prevent people from gathering in large numbers. 

“We’ve already heard from hundreds of concerned small retailers who feel the lockdown restrictions have created a massive unfair advantage for many big, multi-national corporations,” Dan Kelly, president of the CFIB, said in a statement. 

“If it is dangerous to buy a book at an independent bookseller, why isn’t it dangerous at Costco?”

Mayors and chairs from the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area issued a joint statement Monday urging large retailers not to hold in-person sales on Black Friday. 

They also advised people against “region-hopping” during the lockdown, except for essential reasons like medical appointments. 

“Now is not the time for pandemonium Black Friday shopping scenes,” Tory said during Monday’s news conference. 

He said online sales are acceptable but asked stores allowed to remain open not to attract large crowds with in-person sales.

“Please do not create a situation where people will gather in large and unnecessary and unhelpful numbers.”

When asked about lack of access to online shopping for vulnerable residents, Tory noted that the “digital divide” creates issues in other areas, such as access to education during online learning, that need to be addressed.

“That’s something we’re going to have to work on with the other governments as we emerge out of the pandemic, because it’s an issue that goes far beyond the short-term shopping opportunities for people,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 23, 2020.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter and Denise Paglinawan, The Canadian Press

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