TORONTO -- Toronto Mayor John Tory says the city is cancelling all its summer camps and recreation programs due to COVID-19.

The mayor made the announcement at a news conference on Friday, saying that all planned 2020 summer camps will be cancelled and that the city is preparing for an alternative program.

“It has become all too clear that the programs as originally planned cannot go forward in our new COVID-19 reality,” Tory told reporters. “Today, we are announcing, with great regret, that all planned summer camps and summer recreation programs will be cancelled based on the advice of our public health professionals.”

Tory said refunds will be provided for families who preregistered “immediately,” and “all fees should be returned in the coming weeks.”

The city’s current summer camps were scheduled to run at 197 locations from June 29 to Sept. 7. The city said that roughly 68,000 people had registered for this year’s summer camps.

Tory said that city staff are working on a plan for “modified recreation programs” that could be offered for a smaller number of children starting as early as mid-July.

“This would be subject to two important conditions. First, we must see continued improvement beyond where we are today in the COVID-19 public health numbers for Toronto,” he said. 

“Second, the provincial order, which would at present preclude such programs, would have to be modified or lifted.”

The city said the modified camps would “incorporate public health measures designed to reduce the risk of virus spread, including physical distancing, smaller group sizes, daily health assessments and more extensive cleaning and hygiene measures.”

If permitted to operate, the modified program, called CampTO, would provide 5,300 camp spaces per week for children ages six to 12, which represents 50 per cent of the typical city-run camp capacity, officials said. 

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto's medical officer of health, said she understands that many families who rely on the programs may feel frustrated.

“We know how important these camps are to health of our children and their families and I know that they are a fun part of summer for many,” she said. 

“This is why my team is working with the city’s parks, forestry and recreation division to provide guidance on how they can provide a modified version of summer day camps this year that are safe for our youth if provincial restrictions are lifted and our local conditions allow.”

The city will lose $7 million as a result of these camp cancellations and approximately 1,500 part-time recreation workers will be impacted , Tory said. 

“I know this decision will upset many families and it will cause hardship for those who rely on these camps and programs the most,” the mayor said. 

“But nothing is more important than the health of our children. We just cannot put them at risk.”