Canada’s biggest city is coming back to life. The sidewalks are busier. Traffic is starting to build again. More people are out enjoying the summer in the parks.
Now Toronto is graduating to the next level of the reopening process. On Friday it did what most parts of Ontario have already done and entered Stage 3. That means people can sit on an indoor bar stool or work out at the gym. It means they can join in gatherings of up to 100 people outdoors and 50 indoors. It means they can go out for dinner at a restaurant and sit inside, though distanced from other patrons.
Many residents will do none of these things. For the COVID-19-cautious, the reopening is happening way too fast. They look with a shudder at the big surges in parts of the United States after hasty reopenings. They think it is rash to resume so many activities while the new coronavirus is still among us.
Those feelings are understandable. The virus has killed more than 1,100 people in Toronto. It’s only natural to be nervous about what might happen when life in the city starts up again and people start to mingle more, even if at a distance. Some residents are choosing to stay in a personal Stage 2, avoiding gyms, bars and group settings altogether. They are of course perfectly within their rights to make that choice.
But they should consider what the numbers are saying, too. In Toronto, those numbers are looking good; very good. On one day this week, it recorded just one new case, extraordinary for a city of three million. In Ontario at large, the trend is also downward. This week, for the first time since the lockdown began in March, the province saw days with fewer than 100 new cases.
So Ontario is not like some American state rushing to throw the doors open and get the party started. It is moving ahead with reopening because its top experts have advised it is now possible and the figures show it is reasonably safe. What is more, it is moving ahead with utmost care. Ontario’s staged approach is designed to reopen the province gradually and methodically. To lower the risk of a new outbreak as the lockdown eases, provincial officials have brought in a whole array of rules and guidelines about distancing and hygiene, including mandatory masking in schools from Grade 4 up.
A special Toronto bylaw requires people to stay seated while at bars and restaurants. Another bylaw says they must wear masks in the common spaces of condos and apartment blocks. Though there will always be those that will ignore the rules – like the “yahoos” condemned by Premier Doug Ford for piling into a Brampton house party – most residents are behaving. That’s one reason the numbers are down. If residents trusted government when it told them it was vital to stay home at the peak of the outbreak, why shouldn’t they trust government when it says it’s okay to go out (carefully) now?
Of course, the city could see a resurgence of the virus as reopening advances. Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Eileen de Villa, says she expects the daily numbers to rise in Stage 3. If so, the city is much better prepared, its emergency rooms well-stocked, well-staffed and no longer at risk of being overwhelmed by the number of patients, which has fallen sharply.
Any dangers of further reopening have to be weighed against the cost of prolonging a lockdown that has thrown thousands out of work. That lockdown is taking a toll not just on the economy but on human health, both physical and mental. The fact that it is easing is a cause if not for celebration then at least for considerable hope. The cloud is starting to clear and the sun is shining through.
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