Toronto mayor says city should ‘stay the course,’ calls for ‘very cautious’ approach to reopening

TORONTO — Mayor John Tory said he does not want to “rush” to reopen Toronto’s economy, noting that he supports a “very cautious” and gradual approach that will keep businesses open in the long-term.

Speaking to CP24 on Sunday morning, Tory said he is not yet ready to commit to a reopening timeline.

“I’m not prepared to say the time has come (to reopen) until I’m told that by the medical experts, who are deeply concerned about the variants and are saying let’s do this one step at a time,” Tory said.

“I would just say that the job for us in Toronto is to get the schools open on Tuesday in a safe manner and make sure those kids are safe and the staff and then to take a serious look over the course of next week at what’s going on with those variants.”

In-person learning will resume on Tuesday in Toronto, Peel Region, and York Region, which are the last three regions in the province to reopen schools.

Tory said the city will need time to assess the impact of that.

“To me the message, at least for Toronto, I can only speak for Toronto, is stay the course. Carry on with everything we were doing before because it actually was working in terms of the numbers diminishing,” he said.

“Let’s just do these things one at a time properly instead of being in a rush to satisfy some group or another.”

Starting next week, all regions of the province, with the exception of the three COVID-19 hot spots, will return to the province’s reopening framework, allowing many businesses, including restaurants and gyms, to reopen with strict capacity limits.

While many small business owners have applauded the easing of restrictions, the province’s modelling table has cautioned that reopening parts of the economy amid the spread of more contagious variants will likely lead to a spike in cases again.

“These variants, as we’ve seen in Europe, I don’t know why we have to learn these lessons over again, they are very dangerous. They can spread very rapidly. We’ve even seen that here in Ontario… They (small businesses) will not thank us for doing this in a rapid fashion to satisfy political or other kinds of concerns if we are shut down again in a month-and-a-half from now,” Tory said Sunday.

“Nobody will thank us for that and especially (not) the people who are sick or have lost their lives because of us moving too quickly. So I’m in favour of just being very cautious.”

The mayor did suggest that the city could soon join the province’s reopening framework in the grey or “lockdown” zone. The province previously said that Toronto, Peel, and York would not return to the reopening framework until at least Feb. 22.

“We will be prepared to make… a gradual transition into the grey, lockdown zone, which is hardly sort of flinging all the doors open and saying happy days are here again,” Tory said.

In the grey zone of the Ford government’s updated framework, non-essential retail will be permitted to reopen with just 25 per cent of their regular indoor capacity.

Since the provincewide lockdown was introduced on Boxing Day, Ontario has seen a big drop in the number of new infections, with the seven-day average of new cases declining from more than 3,500 in mid-January to under 1,200 this week.

But Tory noted that the case numbers are still significantly higher than when parts of the economy reopened following the first wave of the pandemic.

“I wish I could say that happy days should be here again,” he said. “But the case counts are still much higher than they were at the end of last summer and you’ve got added on top of that something that the medical experts tell us is a subject of real, genuine and serious concern, which is these variants.”

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