City bylaws requiring residents to stay two metres apart in public and wear masks in public spaces should be extended into June, according to a report from Toronto’s medical officer of health, to be submitted at next week’s city council meeting.
The regulations, which also also cover infection control regulations inside restaurants and bars, and inside common areas in rental buildings and condos, were scheduled to expire next week.
“New daily cases of COVID-19 continue to surge in Toronto,” according to the report from Dr. Eileen de Villa.
The report points out that although the local reproductive number has dipped below one, the most recent figure for per cent positivity for COVID-19 tests was 8.6 per cent.
“Current public health measures, including a lockdown, have not yet resulted in declining weekly case rates,” according to the report.
De Villa’s report recommends extending the bylaws until the end of city council’s scheduled meeting on June 8 and 9.
The report also recommends that amendments to the municipal code be extended, requiring landlords to provide hand-washing or hand sanitization products in common areas and close non-essential common areas, as well as requiring restaurants to keep screening staff, limiting the number of patrons, maintaining customer logs and limiting the number of people sitting at a table.
Toronto is scheduled by provincial order to remain in lockdown until at least Feb. 10. Schools are also closed until then.
While the number of new daily cases has recently dropped in the city, the virus is still circulating at high levels and medical officials are concerned about a new, more infectious strain of the virus taking hold.
The so-called U.K. variant, B.1.1.7, has been estimated to be up to 70 per cent more contagious and may be leading to more deaths in Britain, where the strain was first identified.
The bylaws, which have been passed in the months since the virus first took hold in the city in March, were last extended in September.
Mayor John Tory, speaking to reporters on Thursday, said residents should not be overly optimistic about falling case counts.
“Yes, it’s down from where it was at a very unacceptable and very scary kind of peak a couple of weeks ago. But we’ve got to keep it down and we’ve got to push it down much, much further,” he said at an unrelated virtual press conference.
He also said the city won’t suddenly emerge from lockdown and likely there will be a slow, phased reopening in order to ensure another wave of virus spread doesn’t begin.
“I’m optimistic we can get back to, you know, some elements of a more normal life by the summer. But that’s still very conditional upon things getting better over the next few weeks so that we can then put in place a reopening plan that will go out the next few months.”
with files from Jennifer Pagliaro
Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter covering city hall and municipal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF