Toronto to redeploy hundreds of staff in order to protect essential services from threat posed by Omicron

The City of Toronto will redeploy hundreds of staff members as it seeks to maintain essential services during a worsening fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a press release issued on Wednesday morning, the city said that it is “planning for a possible high number of unplanned staff absences due to illness and COVID-19 isolation requirements” and has already started to redeploy some employees “in support of critical and essential services.”

The city says that many of the hundreds of employees being redeployed were called upon to fill the same jobs during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, when there were also concerns about maintaining services due to a high volume of COVID-19 case counts.

The situation, however, could turn out to be much more challenging for employers this time around with Ontario now regularly reporting in excess of 10,000 new cases a day amid the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

“The city continues to be agile and responsive to make sure Toronto residents and businesses are safe, vigilant and informed. These measures will help us slow the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus,” City Manager Chris Murray said in the release.

“We know this variant is causing absenteeism in all sectors and organizations as it spreads and we are deploying our incredible Toronto Public Service to focus on ensuring that essential and critical services are maintained and that Toronto remains a global leader in curbing the pandemic.”

The City of Toronto had planned to fully reopen City Hall and its civic centres in January as part of a broader return to the office for employees who had been working remotely since the start of the pandemic.

But it was forced to put those plans on hold earlier this month as the Omicron variant spread quickly throughout the province.

In addition to redeploying some staff, the city says that it will also close down its non-essential in-person counter services as of Jan. 4 in order to “further protect” staff who can perform the work remotely or be made available to support critical and essential redeployment efforts.

Meanwhile, the use of rapid antigen tests to screen staff is being expanded to include some critical services, including police, fire, paramedics, water and public health.

Previously rapid tests were mostly used to screen staff in sectors with legislated testing requirements, such as long-term care homes.

The measures being taken by the city come one day after Vaughan announced that it was closing its city-run fitness centres and swimming pools due to staffing shortages and switching most of its libraries to curbside pickup only.

“As we face the threat of the Omicron variant, the City of Toronto is taking proactive steps to ensure essential and critical city services that residents rely on continue, with the high service levels Torontonians expect,” Mayor John Tory said in the release.

“We remain steadfast in our resolve to respond to the Omicron variant and protect the health of Toronto residents. Throughout the pandemic, employees across the Toronto Public Service have worked to respond to the virus and its variants. My continued and sincere thanks goes to them all and I commend their dedication to support essential and critical city services during the holiday season and beyond.”

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