TORONTO — Public health officials in both Toronto and Peel are asking the province to place their communities in the grey lockdown category of its framework for COVID-19 restrictions as of Monday, allowing non-essential retail stores to reopen while most other business stay closed.
Toronto Mayor John Tory confirmed the request while speaking with reporters during a briefing on Wednesday afternoon, noting that he believes the time has come to proceed with a “cautious” reopening of the economy.
Tory, however, said that the city has asked the Ministry of Labour to conduct additional inspections of Toronto workplaces as part of the lifting of the stay-at-home order.
“All of this taken together will ensure that we proceed with caution to begin to reopen and stay open while we move ahead with vaccinations,” he said.
Tory’s announcement on Wednesday afternoon came hours after Peel’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh confirmed that he would also be advocating for his region to be placed under the grey lockdown category.
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie had said last week that she would push for the region to be placed in the red zone of the framework, which would have allowed indoor dining to resume at bars and restaurants with capacity limits and a wide swath of other businesses, including gyms and hair salons, to reopen.
But during his weekly briefing at Brampton city hall on Wednesday morning, Loh revealed that there has been a “reversal of the favourable trends” that had been apparent in the region since January, likely “driven by the growth of variants of concern and the loosening of measures in other jurisdictions.”
For that reason, Loh said that he will be asking provincial officials to place Peel in the grey lockdown zone once it lifts the stay-at-home order in the region as soon as Monday.
“From five cases just two weeks ago we now have over 100 confirmed case of variants in our community and 600 that have screened positive and these numbers give me pause,” he said. “Our hospitals are also seeing admissions related to spread of variants and while ICU occupancy has improved from the peak of the second wave it still remains at levels similar to what e saw in wave one in the spring of 2020. Reopening too quickly risks eliminating the gains we have made and putting lives and wellbeing at risk.”
Peel’s rolling-seven day average of new cases has risen from 194 at the this time last week to 213.
It also has the highest weekly incidence rate of any public health unit when adjusted for population.
Speaking with reporters, Loh said that if conditions were different he would “absolutely recommend loosening measures more quickly,” as he did in July.
However, he warned that moving to quickly to reopen Peel’s economy now could result in a third wave that will ultimately shutter businesses once again.
“The UK saw a third wave when they reopened with variants in their midst and nobody, myself included, wants to see that. We must try to keep what happened there from happening here,” he said. “That is why I encourage us strongly to reopen gradually. We don’t want to have to use the provincial emergency break as Simcoe Muskoka and Thunder Bay did.”
Crombie had previously said that she would push for Mississauga to be placed in the red zone even if Peel as a whole was kept in gray, given the comparatively lower number of COVID-19 cases in her city.
Loh was asked about that on Wednesday but seemed to reject the idea of having varying public health restrictions within a single region as “interconnected” as Peel.
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown also voiced his opposition to the idea and said that ultimately the decision on where to place regions in the framework needed to be a “public health decision and not a political decision.”
“If you look at the case counts Brampton has a higher case count than Mississauga but the variant outbreak in Mississauga was one of the reasons we were held back from the initial reopening and you also have to look the severity of the cases,” he said. “The severity of the cases has been significantly higher in Mississauga, the number of fatalities has been significantly higher so this talk about whether you can separate Peel Region doesn’t really make sense because we are completely interconnected. Our hospitals are interconnected, our communities are interconnected.
Peel Region, Toronto and North Bay are the only public health units that have not been returned to the provincial framework.
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