'Substantial' amount of travel from GTA to Niagara in recent weeks is concerning to Hirji

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Niagara Regional Public Health reports 29 cases of COVID-19 on Monday amidst rising concerns that Niagara might be facing another surge in cases, competing against the opening of the provincial mass rollout of vaccines.

During a press conference at noon Monday, Dr. Mustafa Hirji, Niagara's acting medical officer of health warned that the window to turn the trend around is closing.

"The outlook is not looking good in Ontario or Niagara," said Hirji, pointing to the provincial projections that the recently emerged variants of concern are taking a stronger hold in the province and showing a sharp upwards curve in cases that could be seen toward the end of the month.

Despite Monday marking the first day of the provincial vaccination booking system opening up, and the mass vaccination clinics being just weeks away from opening, a rapid spread in cases would put pressure on the region's ICU system, already under high strain, Hirji said.

In recent days, discussions about the possibility of a third wave shutdown have become more prevalent, prompting Hirji to reiterate that the time to act is now.

"It is really critical for the province to not move into another shutdown, that we take it upon ourselves to continue to have the mindset we had a year ago," Hirji said.

He underscored that it is critical that residents stay home as much as possible, limiting trips outside the home to only necessities, despite many stores and businesses being allowed to reopen.

During the media conference, Hirji said provincial officials should consider the entire Golden Horseshoe when making decisions about restrictions if they are serious about reducing cases.

Mobility data studied by the region also indicates heavy travel from hotspots in the GTA to destinations like shopping malls, and Niagara Falls' Clifton Hill.

"There is a decrease of people staying home in the last few weeks, increasing the number of contacts when people are out and about in retail," said Hirji, pointing out that it is what was expected when the province reopened.

"It is obviously concerning that we are seeing that."