Toronto, Peel Region want to extend current lockdown until at least March 9
TORONTO -- Toronto and Peel Region are both recommending the current strict lockdown measures be extended for an additional two weeks.
Mayor John Tory made the announcement at City Hall on Wednesday afternoon, saying that the recommendation for Toronto has been made to avoid a third wave of COVID-19 in the city.
If approved by the province, Toronto and Peel Region would not move into the colour-coded framework on Feb. 22 as planned and would remain in a full lockdown until March 9.
Tory said the recommendation was made on the advice of the city's top doctor.
"I have never been as worried about the future as I am today," Toronto's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said Wednesday afternoon.
She warned that with the variants of COVID-19 now circulating the province new infections could surge if the city reopens too quickly.
"By the time the confirmed case counts are big enough to shock us it will be too late to do anything, we will be in a third wave as bad as anything we have been through thus far," de Villa warned.
Tory said keeping Toronto closed for an additional two weeks will hopefully help to avoid any future lockdowns.
"I know extending the lockdown will cause continuing hurt for many businesses," Tory said. "We absolutely do not want to find ourselves opening up, even slightly, and then having to close down again just a few weeks from now. With the promise of vaccinations upon us, we need to ensure that this lockdown that we're presently in is the last one."
The request made by de Villa on Wednesday afternoon came hours after Peel Region Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh made a similar ask.
Over the last week, variants of concern have grown from only five cases to 45 in Peel Region. There are currently at least 40 lab-confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, which first originated in the U.K., and five cases of the B.1.351 variant, which was first found in South Africa.
In addition, there are over 200 more cases in Peel that have screened positive for a variant of concern as of Wednesday. These cases are undergoing genomic sequencing to confirm and identify which variant they are.
"Can we reassess our anticipated return to the provincial framework? Holding the status quo for just one incubation period, 14 days, will allow us to better see where the variant trends go and review any impact that school reopening might have on community contacts and transmission," Loh said during a media briefing in Brampton Wednesday morning.
Loh argues that delaying the region's move into the framework is needed to avoid a surge in cases and another lockdown down the road.
“I know it's not news that people want to hear, but I think just holding on for a couple more weeks will allow us to really figure out what the picture is to try to get things under control, to try to make sure that the school reopening goes off without a hitch,” he said.
In a letter addressed to Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams dated Feb 13, de Villa and Loh, as well as Chair of the Ministry of Health Public Health Measures Table, Dr. David McKeown, said that above all else, the provincial government needs to seriously reconsider its reopening strategy.
“We request the Province alter its current course, towards a more gradual and progressive approach that would ease restrictions more slowly, allowing time to monitor the trends, respond and adjust accordingly to keep transmission rates low.”
At Queen's Park, ahead of De Villa's comments, Health Minister Christine Elliott said "no decision" has been made on whether the province would move Toronto, Peel and York out of the emergency shutdown and back into the Grey-Lockdown zone of the provincial framework.
"There were some numbers that came in last night, there will be numbers that are going to come in on Thursday as well and then a recommendation will be made by Dr. Williams based on his discussions with the local medical officers."
Elliott said what is "still up for discussion" is whether the regions would be moved into the framework on Feb. 22, regardless of the city's recommendations, effectively punting the lockdown decision to the local medical officers of health.
Premier Doug Ford has repeatedly stressed that cities would have the government's support if local health officials issued a lockdown order using Section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act.
Leader of the NDP Andrea Horwath argued that not only is the premier’s approach to reopening coming too soon, but that he is risking a “very bad third wave” in the process.
“People are exhausted, and they need a break for sure but bouncing back and forth into lockdown and having COVID-19 variants spread through Ontario is no solution for our province,” she said while speaking with CTV News Toronto over the phone on Wednesday.
“And so by opening up again, without adding things, like measured layers, like paid sick days, for example, like safer schools, for example, like more support in long-term care, like a plan to actually roll out a vaccine program that people can make sense of, I mean, these things need to be in place, but Ford doesn't want to spend the money.”
With files from CTV News Toronto's Colin D'Mello