Resist temptation to gather during upcoming holidays, Toronto officials urge

People enjoy the warm weather in Toronto, on Sunday May 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Toronto officials are urging residents to celebrate the upcoming spring holidays safely, and virtually if possible, amid a surge in COVID-19 variant cases in the city.

Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon, the city’s medical officer of health said that anyone who gathers over Easter, Passover or Ramadan will be “taking a great risk.”

“If the current situation is described as a race, the variants are ahead by a mile,” Dr. Eileen de Villa said. “The religious holidays to be celebrated over the next couple of weeks create tempting opportunities to come together. But this is a dangerous time.”

“If you gather as usual, you are taking a great risk. It is just an invitation to COVID-19 variants to spread.”

De Villa said that more than 800 lab-confirmed COVID-19 tests in Toronto have screened positive for a variant of concern since Monday. She added that health professionals have been sounding the alarm for weeks and that the head of the center for disease prevention and control (CDC) in the U.S. said she was scared.

“If the CDC says something like that, believe it,” de Villa said. “She’s not alone.”

“I don't want anyone to panic or to feel hopeless. I do want you to act.”

Instead of celebrating the spring holidays with a large gathering, de Villa suggests staying at home with those you live with and connecting to others virtually. If meeting up with people outside, remain physically distanced, de Villa added.

Toronto Mayor John Tory echoed the statement, saying that officials “fervently hope” residents will celebrate their respective holidays in a safe way.

“We have seen time and time again, and increase in COVID-19 cases after major holidays,” Tory said. “That is so important to right now. We all wish we could be gathering with family and friends in person but again this year people have to be safe and celebrate with just members of their own home.”

The comments were made hours after Ontario Premier Doug Ford hinted at the possibility of further COVID-19 restrictions as admissions to intensive care units reached a record high. No further details were released regarding the possible restrictions, but Ford had previously urged people not to make any plans for Easter.

Another 2,333 COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Ontario on Wednesday, marking the seventh straight days in which the daily number of infections has surpassed 2,000. A Critical Care Services Ontario report, obtained by CTV News Toronto, showed there are currently 421 patients with COVID-19 in intensive care units (ICUs) across the province.

The province has said that when there are more than 300 COVID-19 patients in the ICU, care not related to the disease becomes impossible to handle.

As it stands, under the provincial framework, up to 50 people can gather outdoors for a religious service, wedding or funeral in Toronto. As of March 29, capacity for indoor religious services will be adjusted for “the number of individuals that can maintain two metres of physical distance.”

It remains illegal to gather with anyone outside of your household and up to 10 people can get together outside as long as physical distance can be maintained.