After nearly four straight months, top doctors in Toronto and the Peel Region are asking the province to lift stay-at-home orders.
Both are recommending a move into the grey zone of Ontario’s pandemic framework as soon as March 8, which is when the province’s current stay-at-home orders for the regions are set to expire.
The move would still see the regions locked down but with what Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa called “more flexibility.”
Residents “earned this change… often at a personal sacrifice,” de Villa said during a news conference on Wednesday. However, both she and her Peel region counterpart, Dr. Lawrence Loh, cautioned people to continue to stay at home, only leaving for essential reasons.
“I know it has been long and we all want to get back to normal,” Loh said during a separate news conference, but “chasing normal too quickly could mean losing the progress that we’ve made to this point.”
The updates come as Ontario reports an additional 958 cases of the illness. The total number of deaths connected with the novel coronavirus has now surpassed 7,000 in the province.
However, the new cases reported Wednesday are the lowest single-day increase logged in the last two weeks. In Toronto, there were 290 new cases reported, according to de Villa.
In Peel region, Mayor Bonnie Crombie said they’re averaging 95 cases per 100,000 people, an increase from 88 cases per 100,000 people last week.
A visibly disappointed Crombie had hoped to move Peel region into the less severe red zone.
“I’m really hoping this week’s case numbers are just an anomaly,” she said, adding she will be asking Loh to do weekly reviews “in the hope that we can progress to the red zone and beyond very soon.”
Both de Villa and Loh expressed concerns over the rise of COVID-19 variants, which are more transmissible than the original virus.
In Peel region, Loh said there are currently 100 confirmed cases of variants of concern, up from just five a week ago.
In Toronto, de Villa said “the number of cases screening positive for a variant has more than doubled.”
Both acknowledged how hard this announcement will be for some residents who have now spent 15 straight weeks under stay-at-home orders — 100 days.
A spokesperson for the Ontario minister of health said residents can expect an announcement this Friday, adding that a decision will be made “in consultation with local medical officers of health.”
Loh urged caution, saying that what happens in the coming weeks will determine whether Peel region begins its exit from the pandemic or descends into a third wave.
“I don’t want to reopen only to have the province pull the emergency brake,” he said. “A third wave would devastate our small businesses.”
In Toronto, de Villa encouraged people to act in ways that do not “squander” this opportunity.
“While I believe moving into grey is reasonable, we are also scaling up enhanced safety measures to protect those essential front-line workers who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19,” she said.
“This is the right approach,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory, adding that “vaccinations taken together with regional and economic realities make it the right time for Toronto to move cautiously back.”
Both Toronto and Peel region’s vaccination efforts are being hampered by delays in supply.
“Vaccines do us no good if they’re not in arms yet,” Loh said. “We must stay the course.”