‘The simple fact is that the GTA is not there yet’: Region’s mayors cautious as Ontario moves to reopen
May 15, 2020
Francine Kopun and Ed Tubb
GTA mayors are urging caution even as Ontario Premier Doug Ford Thursday unveiled details of a plan to start reopening the province for business, pointing out that big cities are in a different situation from smaller communities.
Ford announced Thursday that beginning next week, stores that are not in malls and have separate street-front entrances will be able to open for business instead of just offering curbside service. Seasonal businesses will also be permitted to open, along with pet care services and household services like housekeeping, cooking and maintenance.
Ford also lifted the essential workplace limits on construction and allowed some medical services to begin operating again, including in-person counselling and scheduled surgeries.
Golf courses and off-leash dog parks can reopen on Saturday.
Toronto Mayor John Tory and Dr. Eileen de Villa, medical officer of health, meanwhile urged businesses and residents to continue to exercise caution, to stay home as much as possible and to continue practising social distancing, to avoid flare-ups of the communicable disease.
De Villa asked people to remain at home during the upcoming long weekend, much as they may want to travel on what is typically the launch of cottage season. She said she was making the recommendation to help prevent transmission in smaller communities, where health-care facilities could easily be swamped by an increase in the number of cases.
She also urged people not to get together with friends this weekend, appealing as the idea might be after nine weeks of being asked to stay home.
“It is not time for that yet,” said de Villa.
“We cannot take our progress for granted.”
Tory warned that COVID-19 remains a deadly virus and “we cannot and must not” allow the sacrifices that have already been made to be in vain.
According to the Star’s count, the trend in new COVID-19 cases across Ontario has fallen steadily since peaking at more than 700 cases a day in late April. However, the overall decline in cases has not been felt equally across the province.
In Toronto -- the health unit that has seen by far the most cases and deaths -- the daily count of new COVID-19 cases rose sharply through March to around 200 cases a day in mid-April, but has plateaued at roughly that level since then -- in other words, the trend in new infections has not yet started to fall in Toronto as it has elsewhere.
The number of new cases in Toronto fell to 153 on Thursday, and more people recovered -- 196 -- than fell ill, but a consistent and steady decline in cases is needed, de Villa said.
“We must monitor the situation in our city,” she said.
It seems areas in Ontario outside of Toronto have reached their peak of new COVID-19 cases, data shows.
In the rest of the GTA, the recent daily case count has fallen sharply in recent weeks to about 110 cases a day, down about half from a mid-April peak.
And in the rest of Ontario outside the GTA, cases have fallen slowly but steadily to around 75 cases a day after peaking at nearly three times that rate around April 1 -- a much earlier peak than in Toronto and the GTA.
Joe Cressy, chair of Toronto’s Board of Health, said that the continuing presence of community transmission and the unique characteristics of big cities make it clear that a GTA-specific approach is needed to reopening.
“This is not rocket science -- the situation in the GTA is very different than the rest of the province. The simple fact is that the GTA is not there yet, and the provincial government needs to ensure an evidence-based regional approach to reopening.”
Other GTA mayors have also expressed concern with the trend. In Mississauga, Mayor Bonnie Crombie said Wednesday that not every municipality is ready to open, pointing out that infections remain higher in big cities than in outlying areas.
“This is a tale of two pandemics,” she said.
Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward said that people are telling her not to be too gung-ho when it comes to reopening, even though there are only 97 cases in the city of 200,000.
“We need to be cautious in terms of reopening,” said Meed Ward on Thursday, in an interview with CP24.
Tory said he is reassured by the fact that most of the stage one reopening isn’t scheduled to take place until Tuesday, which gives Toronto time to collect more data in order to determine where the trend of infections is heading.
He warned he wants to see clear and understandable criteria from the province before moving to the second stage of reopening, to make sure it’s done safely.
“I think there’s an expectation on my part, on the part of medical officers of health, other mayors and most importantly the public, that there will be set out very clear, understandable criteria that have to be met in order for us to move to the much broader stage two,” Tory said.
“As we reach the stage where there is much broader reopening, more risk, we have to be very careful and I think most people would agree with that after all the sacrifices they’ve made.”