Ottawa poised to return to orange zone on Tuesday: Etches

The city's current COVID-19 indicators would place it under the orange alert level on Ontario's pandemic scale when a provincewide shutdown ends next week — although any designation could change at a moment's notice.

National capital was under orange alert when shutdown was announced

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches says Ottawa would return to orange-level pandemic restrictions next week if current COVID-19 indicators hold, but cautions that there's no guarantee things won't suddenly change. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Ottawa is poised to return to the orange alert level on Ontario's pandemic scale when a provincewide shutdown ends next week, according to the city's medical officer of health.

An announcement is likely to come from the province Friday, said Dr. Vera Etches, who also warned that any designation could change at a moment's notice. 

"Current monitoring indicators would put us in the Orange – Restrict zone," said Etches in a special statement posted Thursday afternoon on Ottawa Public Health's website.

"However, we have seen how quickly things can change, so this is not yet a guarantee."

Return to late last year

If Ottawa does move into the orange zone, it would mark a return to restrictions that had been in place locally before the province went into lockdown in late December.

Restaurants would be able to resume indoor dining, with limits of 50 patrons per establishment. They would be able to stay open until 10 p.m., with alcohol sales cut off one hour before closing time.

Gyms and recreational facilities would also be allowed to reopen, again with caps on the number of people permitted indoors at any one time. Organized sports would also be permitted to get back underway.

Many non-essential businesses could also reopen their doors, as could cinemas, galleries and casinos.

Private indoor gatherings could have up to 10 people and outdoor gatherings up to 25, as long as people could physically distance.

Advice stays the same

The news comes as Ottawa health officials reported 56 new cases Thursday and zero deaths. 

The city's rolling seven-day average of new COVID-19 per 100,000 residents now sits just above 30, while the R(t) number — which reflects how many people are infected by a single case — is 1.09.

Both of those indicators, if they hold steady, would place Ottawa squarely in the orange alert category.

However, there have been concerns about new, more contagious variants of the virus that causes COVID-19, and some experts have called for tough restrictions to stop the B117 variant, first detected in the United Kingdom, from becoming Ontario's dominant strain.

Even with the possibility that the rules could soon change, Etches said in her statement that her COVID-19 prevention advice to the public remained the same.

"We must continue with our routine behaviours that we know keep COVID-19 transmission low," she said. "Wear a mask, limit close contact to the people you live with, stay two metres apart from others, stay home when you're sick except to get tested and practice proper hand hygiene."

Outside the city, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit will also likely move into the orange zone Tuesday, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis said during a Thursday afternoon media briefing.

With files from Priscilla Hwang

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