Toronto is bringing in sweeping new measures to try to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, cancelling March break camps and closing licensed child care facilities, community and recreational centres and libraries for the next few weeks.
The city’s top medical officer, Eileen de Villa, is also recommending stricter guidelines for returning travellers, saying that all people coming back from other countries should self-isolate for 14 days, regardless of how they feel. Among those affected is Mayor John Tory, who made a short trip this week to London.
“I will be going into self-isolation for the next 12 days as per Dr. de Villa’s advice,” Mr. Tory said in a statement issued by his office. “Right now, I have no symptoms whatsoever and feel great.”
Police, fire service, and emergency medical services (EMS) operations are unaffected by the new city restrictions, as are transit, water service, garbage pickup and snow plowing. The zoo and St. Lawrence Market will also remain open, but most of the remaining city facilities will be closed from March 14 to April 5.
Dr. de Villa said in a briefing early Friday evening that the new restrictions in Toronto were needed because the number of travel-related cases of COVID-19 in the city has risen, and because children often show “little or no” signs of infection.
“I recognize that these recommendations will result in significant adjustments to your regular routine and they may present challenges for many families and for our broader community,” she said. “Please know that I am not making these recommendations lightly. On the contrary, they are being made after careful and measured consideration.”
No new restrictions apply to the area’s two biggest transit agencies, which are grappling with how best to manage the coronavirus risk.
Officials with the Toronto Transit Commission, which carries about 1.7 million riders on a typical weekday, met Friday with public health officials on how to square the reality of crowded vehicles with a provincial recommendation that people avoid groups of more than 250. A spokesman for the agency referred questions about this to the province, which did not respond.
Asked in her briefing how the dangers of being in crowds could not also apply to transit, Dr. de Villa did not answer directly, but said she had checked with her provincial counterparts. “I was advised specifically that mass transit was not contemplated in that recommendation,” she said.
Meanwhile, Metrolinx, which oversees the GO Transit system that usually carries nearly 300,000 weekday riders, will cut service because of ridership declines associated with the outbreak.
In an e-mail to his staff obtained by The Globe and Mail, Metrolinx chief executive officer Phil Verster said the agency has to “adjust … to this pandemic as it evolves.”
Ridership numbers take several weeks to process, and the agency does not have firm number for how many passengers it is currently serving. A spokeswoman said on Friday that ridership is expected to be down 30 to 40 per cent by next week.
Metrolinx promised that all current routes will continue and said new schedules are being finalized for release on Sunday.
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