Ontarians concerned with the spread of coronavirus expressed anger and frustration that major shopping malls remain open Tuesday despite the province issuing a state of emergency and public health officials recommending everyone adopt social distancing measures.
Christina Zeko, of Mississauga, Ont., launched an online petition calling for malls to shut down, and some 2,300 people have signed.
“I’m extremely disappointed and upset,” Zeko said in a news release from Change.org, where the online petition is posted.
“Due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, I believe our government should take further action and close all shopping centres in Ontario.”
The province’s state of emergency, announced Tuesday morning by Premier Doug Ford, calls for all gatherings of more than 50 people to be cancelled, but stops short of shutting down businesses and malls.
Toronto’s largest malls, including the Eaton Centre and Yorkdale Shopping Centre, remain open but with reduced hours. Mall management has also been ramping up sanitization efforts since early March.
Cadillac Fairview, which owns several shopping malls across Canada, also took the step Tuesday to limit food court seating.
“As of today, as per guidance from Public Health authorities, we will be adjusting our food court operations to takeout only and eliminating seating until further notice, in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” a company spokesperson told CBC News in an email on Tuesday.
Evidence of community transmission in Toronto, officials say
It’s unclear if anyone has been infected with coronavirus at a shopping centre, but there are concerns that busy public spaces like malls pose a risk.
On Monday, Toronto’s medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen De Villa, said that there is “some evidence of community transmission” in the city.
Community transmission is the spread of an illness with no known link to travel or previously confirmed cases, which can signal a growing number of cases going unreported across the country.
Dr. Allison McGeer, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital who worked on the front lines of the SARS epidemic in 2003, believes there is no doubt it is already happening in Canada.
“I don’t think there’s any question,” she previously told CBC News.
As of this morning, 185 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in Ontario, though five are considered resolved. Cases are spread geographically throughout the province, though the majority are concentrated in the Greater Toronto Area.