red zone restrictions toronto

Toronto health officials say the city isn't ready to move into the red zone next week

All of those Toronto residents who were hoping to finally get a haircut or grab a bite to eat inside a restaurant will be disappointed to know that the city's top doctor is not recommending that we move into the red zone of the province's COVID-19 response framework next week. 

Toronto's two-week period in the grey zone is set to expire on March 22, and Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa had previously said a decision would be made this week about next steps.

While the official announcement will be coming from the province on Friday, it seems unlikely that the city will be moving into a new zone come Monday based on comments made by de Villa on Wednesday.

"We've been in conversation with the province, and specifically with the chief medical officer of health, about where next to take Toronto within the provincial COVID-19 framework," said de Villa at a city press conference Wednesday. 

"At this time, it is my view that data do not support the kind of reopening that would be provided for under the red zone designation."

But while Toronto will likely remain in grey going forward, de Villa and Mayor John Tory explained that they, along with public health officials from Peel Region, are also recommending an expansion of what is allowed in this particular zone.

"In our conversations, we've indicated an openness to a modest expansion of the options available to people in Toronto — particularly outdoor-focused activity," she said. "We are moving into a new season and warmer weather, and we have evidence that outdoor activity is lower risk than indoor activity."

Tory explained that the main changes would be the allowance of outdoor dining and outdoor fitness, but de Villa said she is also open to the idea of allowing other activities to take place outdoors — with outdoor haircuts being one example.

"Everyone sees that exhaustion within the city as it relates to all the limitations COVID-19 has forced upon us," she said. "This is understandable and inevitable. This is why modest steps forward in the realm of outdoor activity are a good proving ground at this time."

But de Villa warned that she reserves the right to change the rules at any time if the situation worsens quickly, especially as cases are once again on the rise and many experts have declared that a third wave is already underway in Ontario. 

To date, de Villa said 3,920 cases have screened positive as variants of concern in Toronto.

"If, in the window of the next few weeks, the data indicate course corrections are necessary, then course corrections can be made," she said. 

"I certainly take the view that in the variant environment, that course correction must be swift and decisive should the outbreaks' pace of expansion sound alarm bells. I will not hesitate to call for actions in this instance."

In the meantime, de Villa is asking all Toronto residents to continue practicing self-protection measures to ensure case rates don't spin out of control.

"We know that as spring arrives, people will be able to spend more time outdoors. What I've described for you today represents change that can be tried given our current circumstances, but these are incremental changes and they are cautious and can be reversed if circumstances demand," she said.

"Each step forward is a reminder that we've got to up our game. We are increasingly moving around, and we have to do it masked and at a distance and with every other practical consideration we can make to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and lower the risk of becoming infected with it."

Lead photo by

Hector Vasquez

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