Toronto has a chance of avoiding a deadly third wave of COVID-19, now that the Ford government has agreed to delay relaxation of anti-virus restrictions for the city and Peel region, city officials said Friday.
The end of the worst of the pandemic is in sight if Torontonians continue to stay home and take other precautions while experts monitor the effect of kids in school and the spread of virus variants, public health chair Coun. Joe Cressy said.
“The second (COVID-19) wave has been much harder than the first in terms of deaths and the pain and suffering everybody’s been through,” Cressy said in an interview.
“If we expedite this vaccine rollout to the most vulnerable Torontonians, while keeping our guard up, we will prevent this third wave. We are in the fourth quarter (of the game, so to speak); we cannot let our guard down right now.”
Earlier Friday, Premier Doug Ford said he accepted advice of Ontario’s public health chief to heed calls from Toronto and Peel to leave lockdown and stay-at-home orders in place at least until the next review of restrictions on March 9.
Amid reduced infection rates, restrictions are being loosened in other parts of Ontario including York Region which will enter the less stringent “red zone” on Tuesday.
Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city’s public health chief, had told the province Toronto needs more time to understand the impact of children returning to school and more transmissable COVID-19 variants spreading in regions including Toronto.
“I’ve never been as concerned about the threat of COVID-19 to your health as I am now,” de Villa told Torontonians on Wednesday. She noted that “variants of concern” could quickly reverse the downward infection trend and overwhelm hospitals.
On Friday de Villa thanked the Ford government, calling maintenance of current restrictions “the right move for Toronto.”
“We need to understand what the impact of the variants will be in Toronto and this extension creates a window to do that,” said de Villa, who urged residents to stay home and take other precautions while experts watch data over the next two to three weeks.
COVID-19 experts working outside city hall also welcomed the reopening pause.
“This was a smart move for Toronto, and for Peel. York moving to red is, frankly, inexplicable, if you compare to the other decisions,” said Dr. Andrew Morris, medical director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Sinai Health System-University Health Network.
“I think this will help us understand further trends and give public health and hospitals more breathing room.”
Dr. Ashleigh Tuite, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, called continuing restrictions “sensible,” given the gap in publicly available data on variant spread in Toronto.
“In terms of what (data is) public-facing, it’s a bit of a black box,” Tuite said.
“It feels like we’re on a precipice where we don’t exactly know what’s going to happen over the next while. We have vaccines on the way, but they’re not going to save us over the next little while, and we have reasons to be both optimistic and pessimistic.
“I think proceeding cautiously right now is the way to go.”
Tuite noted, however, that variants are spreading in parts of Ontario not locked down as tightly as Toronto and Peel, and people can move between regions.
In Toronto, the seven-day average for new COVID-19 infections peaked on Jan. 9 at 1,028, almost four times higher than the first-wave peak in mid-April.
On Friday, that seven-day average was 333 after a steady decline. The seven-day average for new hospitalizations was 15 after a prolonged drop since Jan. 10.
Fifteen new COVID-19 deaths were recorded for Toronto on Friday, bringing the total to 2,597.
David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider
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