Toronto confirms 7 more COVID-19 cases in the city, says local transmission on the rise

Toronto Public Health has confirmed 7 new cases of COVID-19 in the city, and officials say the evidence for local transmission of the disease appears to be growing.

City inspectors found 96% of restaurants and bars complied with recommendation to close

Toronto medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa commended the city's restaurants and bars for largely following the recommendation to close earlier this week. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Toronto Public Health confirmed seven new cases of COVID-19 in the city on Wednesday, with officials saying the evidence for local transmission of the virus appears to be growing.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city's medical officer of health, provided updated figures during the city's daily news briefing on Wednesday afternoon.

Ontario confirmed a total of 23 new cases on Wednesday, though de Villa noted that the city's numbers do not always match the province's statistics due to timing. Each jurisdiction releases case numbers at different times, she said.

"As anticipated, we are seeing increasing local transmission, with 11 cases under investigation," de Villa said.

De Villa explained the 11 cases being investigated are not linked to recent travel outside of Canada or close contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19, suggesting the virus is being acquired through community transmission.

She added that the 11 cases do not appear to be linked to each other or to any specific area of the city.

Restaurants and bars largely comply with closure order

Toronto issued a recommendation on Monday asking all bars and restaurants to close and move exclusively to takeout and delivery.

That recommendation was followed by Ontario Premier Doug Ford's declaration of a state of emergency on Tuesday, an announcement that directed the closure of those businesses.

De Villa says city inspectors assigned to investigate restaurants found that 96 per cent were complying with the instructions to stop serving customers inside their establishments.

"This is amazing, just hours after the order was issued, we had that level of compliance. And on St. Patrick's Day no less," de Villa said.

Director fired at city's emergency operations centre

The city confirmed on Wednesday that Charles Jansen, former director of the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), is no longer employed by the city.

In an email to CBC News on Wednesday, Jansen said he was fired from the job, which he started in October 2019. He said the decision was not clearly explained to him.

"I am disappointed with the outcome as this was a role I felt I was made for," Jansen wrote.

"It was mentioned that they want to take OEM down a different path and felt I might not be the right fit for the new direction. Whether that is or isn't the reason, I really don't know."

Charles Jansen, former director the city’s Office of Emergency Management, says he was fired by the city earlier this week. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg oversaw Jansen and currently leads the city's Emergency Operations Centre, which is operating at its highest level in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

At Wednesday's news conference, Pegg said operations will proceed as normal despite Jansen's departure.

"The operations within the emergency operations centre and the COVID-19 task force are continuing. We have a very robust, very effective incident management process in place," Pegg said.

"This situation has been well managed by the city from the start and continues to be well managed."

Less parking enforcement, new TTC rules

Toronto police announced on Wednesday that its parking enforcement officers will no longer issue tickets for a variety of violations, including on-street permit parking and time-limit offences.

Other violations will continue to be enforced.

Mayor John Tory has been calling for local services to reduce interactions and promote social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"These are extraordinary times and I am focused ... on reducing social interactions and protecting all Toronto residents as best we can," said Tory in a statement.

The TTC has said its fare inspectors will now focus on education and customer service in a bid to promote social distancing.

The transit agency also announced that it will allow all-door boarding on all vehicles in a further bid to create space between riders.

Residents of Toronto Community Housing who show symptoms of COVID-19 will also soon be transported to medical centres by TTC-operated Wheel-Trans vehicles. Drivers will be outfitted with personal protective equipment and the vehicles used for this service will undergo "intense cleaning protocols," the TTC said.

All TTC employees will now be permitted to wear masks if they choose to do so, a practice that was previously not allowed.