Toronto's top doctor announces stricter measures as new COVID-19 cases break records

Toronto's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa announced Tuesday that the city would enact stricter measures on top of provincial restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19, saying "we need more measures now because we're seeing spread and risk like we've never seen before."

Mayor John Tory said Monday city needs to 'hunker down' as infections climb

Toronto Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa during a previous COVID-19 announcement at city hall. De Villa announced Tuesday the city would enact stricter measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The latest:

  • Toronto's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa is recommending stricter measures on top of Ontario's "red" category restrictions that will remain in place for 28 days under Section 22 of provincial legislation.
  • The new protections come into effect at 12:01 a.m. this Saturday.
  • Indoor dining at restaurants and bars will remain prohibited.
  • Meeting and event spaces will remain closed, as will casinos and bingo halls.
  • Existing restrictions on indoor fitness classes will remain in place.
  • De Villa is also recommending not socializing with people outside your household and that businesses continue to keep work-from-home plans.

Toronto is moving into the "red" level of Ontario's colour-coded COVID-19 shutdown system and adding stricter measures on top of those restrictions as the city sees record new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus.

The measures, which will be in place for a period of 28 days, come as the city sees a 5.9-per-cent positivity figure, the city's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa announced at a news conference Tuesday. 

"We need more measures now because we're seeing spread and risk like we've never seen before," she told reporters.

The move is in contrast to the city's previous stance, which was that enacting stricter measures on top of the province's restrictions likely exceeded de Villa's legal powers.

De Villa told reporters weeks ago that while she did have some authority under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, she had received legal counsel suggesting it would be "unprecedented" for a medical officer of health to "enact such broad changes."

Asked if the legal advice she was given had changed, de Villa confirmed it had not, "but the urgency of the situation has."

Among the new measures implemented under Section 22 of the province's legislation, the city will continue to prohibit indoor dining, require that meeting and event spaces, including bingo halls, casinos and other establishments, remain closed. The city will also prohibit indoor group fitness classes.

Religious services, weddings and funerals are to be limited to 30 per cent capacity indoors up to a maximum of 50 people. 

De Villa is also calling on people not to socialize with those outside their households and for businesses to continue to have work-from-home plans, though these are strong recommendations rather than requirements.

Read the city's new COVID-19 restrictions here.

'It is time to act'

The news conference comes a day after de Villa remarked that the rising number of cases over the past few days is "the most concerning" she's seen since the onset of the pandemic. 

"We're in a high-risk situation. It is not time to panic, it is time to act," de Villa said Monday.

Several hotspots around the province moved into a new tiered, colour-coded system last week, however the province had delayed the city's transition to the new system at the request of local officials.

The system classifies each public health unit as a red, orange, yellow or green zone based on caseload and transmission levels.

Toronto is currently under modified Stage 2 restrictions and had been scheduled to enter the orange zone on Nov. 14, which is more lenient than its current rules. 

Case numbers 'going in the wrong direction,' Tory says

On Monday, Mayor John Tory seemed to hint at new restrictions, saying the city must "hunker down" for the next few weeks and push the numbers back down to where they need to be.

"The numbers are going in the wrong direction as we speak," Tory said. "We have to fight them."

Ford affirmed on Tuesday that he considers the colour levels a "baseline," which local medical officers of health can add rules on top of — something Peel Region has already opted to do.

When asked if medical officers of health are able to trigger a full lockdown if they deem it necessary, he replied that they do, but "we've never taken that approach." 

Tory, who was also present at the provincial news conference, was asked about whether Toronto might institute stricter measures. 

"These governments respect each other," he said. "We have been working with the province on some of the changes we will announce later this afternoon."