TORONTO — To avoid the devastating spread of COVID-19 as seen in New York City, Toronto’s medical officer of health is using the full extent of her powers to lock down the city.
On Tuesday, Dr. Eileen de Villa ordered all individuals with a positive or suspected case of COVID-19, and people who have come into close contact with them, to quarantine at home for 14 days.
The order will be enforced by the city’s bylaw officers and police officers, and fines could be issued for at least the next 12 weeks.
“I am deeply concerned.”
Her unprecedented decision comes as Canada’s largest city experienced a 500 per cent increase of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks, from 145 cases March 11 to 763 cases by March 31.
The economic loss to Toronto’s retail sector, which has largely shut down in response to the pandemic, is estimated at $291 million. Fifteen nursing homes in Toronto have confirmed cases, de Villa said.
“I am deeply concerned,” said de Villa at a news conference. “I realize I depict a very stark picture, but it’s one that’s honest and true and premised on the data we have in front of us. Given this is our current situation, it is my belief we must, we absolutely must implement stronger measures to avoid the types of results we are seeing in places like New York City.”
New York City reported its first case March 1. One month later, there is almost 42,000 cases and 1,100 deaths — “A substantial loss of life, an overwhelmed health-care system and ... significant social and economic disruptions that are happening right now and I expect will have an impact for many weeks and months to come,” de Villa said.
Ontario’s chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams is urging other local public health officials to follow suit with the mandatory quarantine measures, said Minister of Health Christine Elliott told reporters Wednesday.
This order is on top of the federal government’s requirement that anyone who has travelled must also self-isolate, and the province’s emergency declaration that closed what it deemed non-essential businesses such as restaurants and bars.
Watch: Canada’s streets are eerily empty during pandemic. Story continues below.
Everyone who isn’t ill, hasn’t come into close contact with COVID-19 and hasn’t travelled, is “strongly directed” to stay home except for accessing health care or medication, shopping for groceries once a week, walking dogs, or exercising while maintaining a physical distance from other people of at least two metres, de Villa said.
She is calling on her provincial and federal counterparts to close even more businesses and aggressively track the contacts of people with COVID-19.
Premier Doug Ford said the province reviews the list of businesses that are allowed to stay open “every single day” and it is going to look at making adjustments.
Long-term care homes must also take more drastic steps to prevent visitors and group meals, and increase physical distancing, de Villa said. She strongly encouraged anyone over the age of 70 to stay home as much as possible.
The city is working with homeless shelters to ensure clients sleep two metres apart, she said.
“My job is to do everything we can to save lives, protect our health-care system and get our city back,” de Villa said.
The city has a bylaw drafted to enforce social distance limits, but that has not gone into effect as long as people follow de Villa’s orders and recommendations, said Mayor John Tory. It would apply to city property, including parks and sidewalks, and include sanctions, although he didn’t specify what those would be.
“We’ve been given very clear advice and this bylaw would spell it out in very clear terms, but I hope it’s not necessary to bring it forward and I hope it’s not necessary for enforcement to take place under it because it’s better if we just do this ourselves,” said Tory.
Update: This story was updated to include Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott’s comments.