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COVID-19 in Ontario is now primarily a Toronto-area problem, figures show |

Toronto and its surrounding regions account for a disproportionately high number of Ontario's new cases of COVID-19, according to a CBC News analysis of provincial data on novel coronavirus infections.  

More than three-quarters of the active cases of COVID-19 currently listed in the province's database are found in the five public health units of Toronto, Peel, York, Durham and

Halton regions, an area that accounts for less than half of the province's population.

This is a clear shift from the first month of the pandemic, when cases were more evenly distributed around the province, and that shift is prompting some experts to recommend that the province relax the lockdown in some regions, while clamping down in areas where cases are rising.

In early April, when Ontario hit 5,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, Toronto and the GTA accounted for 52 per cent, according to the province's daily epidemiology reports. However, Toronto and the GTA account for 76 per cent of the roughly 6,600 infections that have happened in May.     

The new data lend further heft to arguments that the provincial government needs to consider a regional approach to the fight against COVID-19 in Ontario, something that Premier Doug Ford has resisted until now. 

"To treat the province as one unit doesn't make a lot of sense," said Dr. Michael Warner, medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto.

"The number of COVID-positive cases is increasing, but I think the more important question is within the province of Ontario, where are those cases actually located?" Warner said in an interview on CBC Radio's The Current. 

Ontario's total daily number of new cases headed on an upward trend from May 10. A closer look at the data shows a disproportionate share of those new cases is found in the five GTA public health units. 

Of the 3,931 infections that have happened in Ontario since May 10, the GTA's public health units account for 3,054, or roughly 78 per cent. 

The growth in new cases in Ontario since early May "is primarily a Toronto problem," said Dr. Alon Vaisman, infectious disease physician at the University Health Network. 

"Other parts of southern Ontario and especially northern Ontario haven't seen rising numbers; mostly it's been a decline." 

Vaisman is urging provincial officials to look far more closely at the specifics of the data to craft the best pandemic response. 

"If you go more deeply and you see a rise of cases in a certain demographic, either old or young, or certain regions, or certain professions — then you could really just tailor your approach to that problem," Vaisman said in an interview with CBC News.

"If all you know is that it's a lot of cases in Toronto, it doesn't make much sense that in Kingston they should be shutting down parks."