TORONTO -- Toronto Mayor John Tory says that the time has come to begin discussions about what the gradual reopening of the city might look like.

Tory made the comment to reporters during a briefing on Wednesday afternoon while also acknowledging that his perspective is that of an “elected representative” and not a public health expert.

“I believe the time has come to start to talk about it only so that we can have a proper, thoughtful plan that is both respectful of the needs of people and businesses but also very respectful of the fact that when we do come to reopen, one assumes we will have made sufficient progress against the virus that we can’t afford to backslide from,” he said. “I think the time has come to begin those discussions in earnest in a real practical way and develop the kind of program we had in the spring where it didn’t happen all in one day.”

Toronto has been under some form of a lockdown since Nov. 23 when a wide swath of businesses, including retail stores, gyms, and movie theatres were first ordered to close.

At one point earlier this month, the city saw its seven-day rolling average of new cases surpass 1,000 amid a post-holiday surge but since then the numbers have begun to trend down with Toronto Public Health only reporting 502 new instances of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, its lowest number in weeks.

Speaking with reporters, Toronto Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said that a conversation around the eventual reopening of the city “would be warranted” at this point under the logic that the earlier the conversation starts the “the more cogent and thoughtful” the planning can be.

But de Villa warned that “now is not the time for action beyond really encouraging people as much as possible to continue on with self-protection measures.”

“I want to stress that 502 confirmed cases (over the last 24 hours) is nothing to celebrate,” she said. “Not many weeks ago we would have undoubtedly considered 500 confirmed cases to be grim news. It still is.”

De Villa warns of spread of new variants

De Villa acknowledged that the city’s “case counts are better today than they have been” and that there are some other improving indicators when it comes to the transmission of COVID-19.

However, she warned that things could quickly deteriorate if the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant already found in 14 Torontonians takes hold in the community.

“This is exactly the kind of thing that I think we need to be very, very concerned about,” she said.

In the spring the Ford government announced a three-stage plan to reopen the economy.

Stage One allowed most retail stores outside of malls to reopen while Stage Two allowed hair salons and other personal services business to reopen, along with bar and restaurant patios.

Indoor dining was not allowed to resume until Stage Three.