BARRIE, ONT. -- "No, we did not make a mistake," says Dr. Colin Lee, Associate Medical Officer of Health with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, after the province announced the region would return to the red zone after spending the last week in Grey-Lockdown.

"We always try to make the best decision possible for our public given the uncertainty of the data that we have, and also weighing the side effects of the lockdown," says Dr. Lee.

Simcoe Muskoka will return to the red zone on Monday, March 8 at 12:01 a.m.

When the region shifted to its third lockdown, business owners voiced their frustration over having to close up shop again. Many were saying they had had it and refused to close.

Christian Linkert said it wasn't about being defiant, but as the owner of two tanning salons, closing his doors again could mean closing for good.

"It's either I open today and risk possible fines, or I close, and I go bankrupt," he said.

Earlier this week, several municipalities sent word to the province requesting the lockdown be lifted or amended to help cash-strapped businesses survive.

"The goal here, of course, is to see the restrictions changed to support some of the small businesses that can safely open and have been required to close," said Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman.

The region's chief medical officer of health said he had received hundreds of emails, most opposing the shutdown after making the recommendation to the province to pull the 'emergency brake.'

Dr. Charles Gardner wrote a letter following the rollback announcement Friday, stating, "We have the highest number of the variants of concern cases in Ontario."

Gardner said he advised Ontario's medical officer of health to tighten restrictions over concerns about the highly-contagious UK B.1.1.7 variant in the region. He said over 60 per cent of infections in Simcoe Muskoka are variants of concern.

"On this basis, I recommended to the province that Simcoe Muskoka be moved into Grey-Lockdown in order to help reduce the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant and COVID-19 overall, with the recognition that early control actions are more effective than later ones.

I did so even though the overall case count for COVID-19 was only moderately elevated above the threshold for the Red-Control zone, as the province's Framework does not take into account the potential impact of the UK variant," he continued.

Gardner said that he was aware of local business owner's "strong negative reaction" to the lockdown since it went into effect on Monday.

"I've got a very tangible sense of their feeling about it, their anger about it, their frustration about it. I am certainly taking that to heart as I continue to communicate with the province," he said Tuesday.

Simcoe Muskoka's health unit confirmed 217 UK variant cases in the region Friday, with 401 that screened positive for a variant of concern - those cases are unconfirmed and require further testing. There are currently six active variant cases in Simcoe Muskoka.

Red-Control Restrictions

The province made changes to the red category in its colour-coded COVID-19 framework to be more lenient with safety measures.

In this zone, restaurants, bars and other food establishments may open with a limited capacity of 10 people indoors and four per table.

In addition, sport and recreational facilities can open with limited capacity.

Bingo halls are allowed to open with a 10-person limit.

Movie theatres must remain closed in the red zone.

Health officials advise everyone to continue to remain home except for essential reasons, such as grocery shopping, work, school, exercise, and medical appointments..