The medical officers of health for Toronto and Peel Region have written a letter to the province requesting that their respective municipalities remain in shutdown until at least March 9.
Toronto medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa said COVID-19 variants pose a serious risk and as such restrictions should not be loosened for the time being.
“I have never been as worried about the future as I am today,” de Villa said during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
“The variants of concern mean we face a deceptively dangerous situation.
“Right now, the case counts don’t look so bad, they don’t sound bad, but today’s variant count is the tip of an iceberg. By the time the confirmed case counts are big enough to shock us, it will be too late to do anything.”
De Villa said there have been 56 confirmed cases of variants of concern in Toronto, 54 of which are the U.K. coronavirus strain and two are the Brazilian strain.
However, De Villa said more than five times that amount have screened positive for variants of concern and are currently undergoing further testing.
Both Toronto and Peel were expected to reenter the province’s coronavirus response framework next week, which, even at its most strict level (grey — lockdown) would have allowed for the loosening of some restrictions, including the opening of retail shops but with health measures in place.
De Villa said she and Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel Region’s medical officer of health, wrote a joint letter over the weekend to Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, requesting that any assessment to return to the framework be delayed.
Toronto faces the prospect of exponential growth from the more transmissible variants, she said, referencing what has been seen in other jurisdictions.
De Villa also said mobility data has shown that people are beginning to move around more despite the current stay-at-home order.
Toronto Mayor John Tory expressed support for De Villa’s calls, adding the focus for the time being should be on keeping schools open.
“(Toronto) Public Health has been clear that a safe reopening of schools and careful monitoring of the variants will require some time,” he said.
“I know extending the lockdown will cause continuing hurt for many businesses, but I also know that we have followed the public health advice throughout this pandemic so that we can keep as many people healthy as possible so that we can save as many lives as we possibly can.”
Tory said he wouldn’t want to see businesses reopen and then have to shut down again in a few weeks.
“With the promise of vaccinations upon us, we need to ensure that this lockdown that we’re presently in is the last one,” he said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Loh said that although the original COVID-19 virus strain first detected in the community in 2020 is now declining, variant cases in the region are accelerating.
“Holding the status quo for just one incubation period, 14 days, will allow us to see better where the variant trends go and review any impact that school reopening might have on community contacts and transmission,” he said.
— With files from Gabby Rodrigues
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