No reprieve for Toronto as tight coronavirus lockdown extended to March

TORONTO (BLOOMBERG) – Ontario’s government has scrapped plans to allow more businesses to reopen in Toronto after city officials warned it would be a deadly mistake.

Stay-at-home orders will remain in place until at least March 8 in Canada’s largest city and financial centre, as well as two other regions of the province.

Toronto had been expected to return to less-stringent measures on Feb 22, allowing for limited opening of some retail businesses that have been closed to in-person activity since November.

“These are difficult but necessary decisions, in order to protect against Covid-19 variants and maintain the progress we have all made together,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a statement.

The reversal came after municipal officials, including Toronto Mayor John Tory, urged Ontario Premier Doug Ford to slow down reopening plans, which would have allowed struggling retailers to open at 25 per cent capacity.

Right now, only essential stores such as supermarkets are allowed to have customers inside; restaurant dining rooms, movie theatres and many other indoor businesses are also closed.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business lambasted the government’s decision.

“Being asked to just hang in there a little longer is an unacceptable and downright insulting response to the thousands of employers and their tens of thousands of employees whose livelihoods are on the line,” the group said in a statement.

Toronto’s chief medical officer, Dr Eileen de Villa, has warned the city is in a deceptively dangerous situation.

While growth in new Covid-19 cases has slowed, the experience of other countries, including Germany, has shown that new “variants of concern,” or VOCs, are capable of surging with little warning, she said.

As of Feb 17, 93,850 cases of Covid-19 had been confirmed in Toronto.

Across the province, the number of cases has been declining for weeks. There have been 385 confirmed cases of the UK variant of the virus and nine cases of the South African variant, according to government data as of Feb 18.

The extended lockdown also applies to Peel, a heavily-populated suburban region west of Toronto, and North Bay-Parry Sound.

Earlier Friday (Feb 19), health officials released estimates that the province will receive about 2.6 million doses of vaccines per month in the second quarter, down from earlier estimates of 5 million a month. But they expect the pace of deliveries and vaccinations to accelerate in July.

Retired General Rick Hillier, who’s in charge of Ontario’s vaccine logistics, said at a news conference Friday it will likely be “well into summer” before younger, less vulnerable people are able to receive a vaccine.

“The number of vaccines, unfortunately, do not support us doing it any faster,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Ontario health ministry said the projection of 2.6 million per month in the second quarter is based on supplies of the two vaccines already approved for use in Canada – the Pfizer Inc-BioNTeck shot and the one developed by Moderna Inc. The approval of other vaccines by Canadian authorities could change the numbers.

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