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Toronto’s top doctor recommends at least 2 more weeks of lockdown

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The City of Toronto is asking the province to keep the city in lockdown for at least an additional two weeks, says Mayor John Tory.

“We have to do everything we can to avoid a third wave,” Tory said during a Wednesday press conference.

The advice comes from top doctor Dr. Eileen de Villa, who reported 302 new cases and three deaths within the city.

“I have never been as worried about the future as I am today,” said de Villa. “While there is a downward trend in many key indicators, warning lights are flashing, too.”

The city’s top doctor said she wants to avoid the “yo-yo” of closing and reopening, noting that the stay-at-home orders and aggressive vaccinations do appear to be working.

The city’s health officials sent their provincial counterparts a letter over the weekend, de Villa said, asking that Toronto’s lockdown end date be pushed to March 9, at which point options can be re-evaluated.

‘False sense of security’

In that Feb. 13 letter, de Villa warned that “reopening in any degree influences public perception of risk and may give a false sense of security that the risk is no longer present.”

The letter was co-signed by Peel’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Lawrence Loh.

“The original strains of COVID are going down, which is good. But the variant strains are accelerating in growth, and those two trends are cancelling each other out,” Loh told reporters on Wednesday.

The growth rate is “alarming,” he said, warning that, “Another storm is brewing.”

Loh acknowledged that people won’t want to hear the news but said he’d be remiss in his duties if he didn’t sound the alarm.

“I feel for everyone that has been impacted, but I ask a simple question: can we hold on for just two weeks more so that we can be sure that we’ll keep our kids in school for longer, continue to protect our vulnerable, and continue to protect our essential workers as vaccine arrives?”

Recoveries outpacing new infections

Earlier on Wednesday, de Villa said Toronto should take a cautious approach when it comes to reopening due to the “increasing presence” of coronavirus variants of concern and the reopening of schools.

A stay-at-home order remains in place in the city, although schools reopened this week. The emergency order is set to continue until at least Feb. 22, and de Villa told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning the city shouldn’t rush to make reopening decision until it gets a better grip on the evolving situation.

“We should slow things down,” she said.

Despite Toronto representing the highest number of new infections in Ontario Wednesday, there have been some positive signs. For example, recoveries from the illness outpaced new infections on Tuesday, and the number of daily active cases has gone steadily down from January’s peak.

“We are seeing declining rates as of late,” de Villa said, attributing that success to the public’s efforts.

Still, more than 300 people are in hospital while at least 80 of those people are in intensive care units. The average test positivity rate for the last week remains at 5.5 per cent. Toronto Public Health also continues to struggle with contact tracing. Just 12 per cent of newly reported confirmed cases are reached within 24 hours.

As people move, so does the virus

Dr. Peter Lin echoed de Villa’s concerns around reopening, noting that as people begin moving around again they’ll be moving the virus, too.

Right now, Lin said, there’s still a lot of virus floating around or, more specifically, reproducing inside people’s noses.

“There’s tonnes of virus out there; that’s the problem,” he said.

Add to that variants such as B117, first discovered in the U.K., and people letting their guard down, and the conditions are there for a third wave of the pandemic, Lin said.

Vaccines, Lin said, won’t arrive fast enough to guard against this potential influx of cases.

Lin also noted young, healthy people are often the ones contracting the virus (Toronto Public Health data shows 1 in 5 people testing positive for COVID-19 are in their 20s), and they will likely be among the last to be vaccinated.