Peel Region, Toronto in talks with province on allowing some outdoor activities

·2 min read

Toronto and neighbouring Peel Region are asking the province if they can adjust COVID-19 restrictions to take advantage of warmer weather, while keeping strict public health measures in place.

Both COVID-19 hotspots are currently in the strictest "grey-lockdown" category of the province's pandemic framework, which allows retailers to open with capacity limits but keeps indoor restaurant dining, gyms, and personal care services closed.

Toronto's top doctor said Wednesday it's not yet safe for her to recommend the city move to the second-strictest "red" zone of the framework, but public health authorities are proposing a "modest" expansion of outdoor activities that can be allowed while the city remains in the "grey" zone.

"We are moving to a new season and warmer weather and we have evidence that outdoor activity is lower risk than indoor activity," said Dr. Eileen de Villa.

"In our conversations (with the province), we’ve indicated an openness to a modest expansion of the options available for the people of Toronto, particularly, outdoor-focused activity."

Peel was also asking the province if it could make slight modifications to the rules in the "grey" zone, with its top doctor saying it was particularly looking at allowing the resumption of some outdoor restaurant dining and fitness activities.

Dr. Lawrence Loh said the latest virus trends do not support further broad reopening at this time, but the region wants to strike a balance between the warmer weather, the growth of variant cases, vaccine supply, and community fatigue.

"It is about how do we leverage a change in climate, recognizing that when 'grey (zone)' was originally written, that was when we were heading into the winter and now it's considering for seasonal adjustments," he said.

Loh noted that the ultimate decision was up to the province.

Toronto Mayor John Tory cautioned that nothing has been finalized.

De Villa said she expects the province will announce its decision on the city's request on Friday.

Toronto reported 576 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, while Peel had 284 new cases.

- with files from Holly McKenzie-Sutter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2021.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Denise Paglinawan, The Canadian Press