'The variants are ahead by a mile,' says de Villa as Toronto's COVID-19 cases surge

Toronto has administered more than half a million COVID-19 vaccine doses, but is nowhere near widespread protection, officials warned.

Toronto Public Health reported 883 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Nurse Tahani McDonald from Humber River Hospital administers the Moderna vaccine at a Toronto Community Housing seniors building on March 25, 2021. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

The City of Toronto hit a milestone Wednesday, having administered more than half a million COVID-19 vaccine doses since immunizations began in the province, the most of any region in Ontario. 

The announcement comes as the province faces a surging third wave. The number of COVID-19 patients admitted to the ICU province-wide hit 421, surpassing the previous pandemic high set in mid-January.

Toronto Public Health reported 883 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, including 330 people in hospital, 53 in the ICU and seven more deaths. More than 8,000 total cases were of variants of concern. 

"If the current situation is described as a race, the variants are ahead by a mile," said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa Wednesday, pleading with the public to stay home.

"At this point, the vaccines are nowhere near close to providing widespread protection."

Mayor John Tory holds a COVID-19 briefing on Jan. 4, 2021 (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

City officials urged residents eligible to be vaccinated to sign up at one of the five mass vaccination sites. There are currently 12,000 appointments available from Wednesday to Sunday, said Fire Chief Matthew Pegg, general manager of emergency management. Appointments take less than 30 minutes.

Mayor John Tory said he's asked the province to allow Toronto residents 60 years and over to sign up for vaccinations and will be announcing more details soon. The province needs to tweak its software to accept health cards from people in this younger age group, he said.

"It makes sense for us if we have the clinics, appointments, professionals, vaccines," Tory said. "Now is the time to do it. There's no time like the present," Tory said. 

York and Halton regions have opened up appointments to people 65 years of age and up. 

New funding for vaccine outreach

The city also says it is giving community organizations $370,000 to reach out to South Asian and Black communities with vaccine information, combat vaccine hesitancy and assist people with special needs in getting vaccinated, the mayor said. 

Another lockdown could be coming to the city in the days ahead. Premier Doug Ford told reporters to expect an announcement Thursday, before the Easter long weekend.

Along with federal government officials, Tory and Ford announced on Wednesday a $925-million plan to expand vaccine manufacturing at a Sanofi Pasteur Ltd. facility in North York Wednesday morning. It will be up and running by 2027 and supply enough influenza vaccine doses to protect all Canadians, a news release said. 

"Today is an actual, tangible demonstration that we've all learned lessons from the pandemic and are doing something about it," said Tory at the news conference.


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