Toronto's mayor declares state of emergency amid COVID-19 pandemic

Mayor John Tory has declared a state of emergency for the city of Toronto amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Move allows Mayor John Tory to to make any decision city council could make

Mayor John Tory declared a state of emergency for the City of Toronto Monday afternoon. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Mayor John Tory has declared a state of emergency for the city of Toronto amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This move comes as public health officials in Ontario have confirmed 78 new cases of COVID-19, raising the province's total to 503. 

Declaring a state of emergency gives Tory the power to make decisions without council votes. Tory, who is currently in self-isolation after travelling to England on a business trip, held a news conference Monday afternoon.

The mayor said that despite orders to practice social distancing, some people are still skirting advice from public health and "just don't get it."

"This is behaviour that is selfish ... and it cannot continue," he said.

In a statement issued Monday, the city said the declaration will allow local government to respond quickly to the pandemic and "any other events that arise in the weeks ahead."

The provincial government has ordered non-essential businesses to close this week, something Tory is welcoming. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Tory did not lay out any measures he is currently considering, but said he would only act in a measured way. He said this move will allow the city to "access resources in a more timely way."

"I will not hesitate to act in the best interests of the city," Tory said.

By declaring an emergency in Toronto, the city can take broader actions to keep people apart on playgrounds and other city-owned spaces, Tory said.

Mississauga announced Monday that it has declared a state of emergency as well and is closing playgrounds, sport courts, skateboard parks and leash-free zones in a similar move.

"I have seen and heard far too many instances of people socializing with friends and families at playgrounds and in our parks and not maintaining safe distances of 2 metres or more," said Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie in a statement. "Enough is enough."

Premier Doug Ford's government has already declared a state of emergency of its own and on Monday demanded all "non-essential" businesses to close by the end of Tuesday. Ford said his government would reveal later what businesses would be forced to shutter. 

Toronto has been the epicentre of the province's coronavirus cases. Toronto public health said there were 239 cases of COVID-19 reported in Toronto as of Monday at 1 p.m., while many more cases in the surrounding Greater Toronto Area.

One person has died, and eleven others have been hospitalized, the city says. To date, there have been five other people diagnosed with COVID-19 who have recovered, according to public health.

Tory said that Toronto is strong, and admired the world over for its resiliency. 

"Have a sense of hope about this," he said. "This is a great city full of strong, resilient people."

Medical officer urges continued social distancing

At a news conference later on Monday, Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto's medical officer of heath, emphasized that city residents must continue to practise social distancing to prevent further spread of the virus.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto's medical officer of health, says she supports the provincial move to shut down all non-essential businesses as of 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday because the sooner they are closed, the greater the impact the closure will have on reducing spread of the virus. (Rozenn Nicolle/Radio-Canada)

"We expect to see more cases of COVID-19 in our city, both with and without travel links. As I have said before, community transmission is occurring," she said.

"We all have a responsibility to protect ourselves, our friends, and our families from this virus spread. Toronto still has the opportunity, we still have the opportunity, to slow this virus spread, but we need to work together."

De Villa said she strongly supports the provincial move to shut down all non-essential businesses as of 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday because the sooner they are closed, the greater the impact the closure will have on reducing spread of the virus.

Asked whether she thinks the LCBO should remain open, she said: "Whether we care to admit it or not, there are many people in our community who have significant dependence issues with respect to alcohol. I think we have to be very conscious of that fact and be aware that if that substance, that provision, is no longer available, that that would lead to pretty significant health consequences."

She reminded residents that social distancing and doing your part to keep more vulnerable people safe means keeping at least two metres or six feet apart, washing hands often, staying home as much as possible, and avoiding close contact with others.

She urged people to call their elderly neighbours, Skype or Facetime with friends and family, or set up a virtual games night with friends.

"Self-isolation may be taking its toll on many of us, maybe even all of us. We are all human. But at this time, physical closeness is exactly what we need to avoid. Please do not put yourself or your friends at risk."