GTA exploring stricter COVID-19 regulations as case numbers continue to rise

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Toronto and its neighbouring regions are exploring the possibility of stricter restrictions over the holiday season as COVID-19 cases soar, the city's mayor said Wednesday.

Mayor John Tory said he and leaders from the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area are discussing using the next few weeks to "lock down even further."

Toronto, as well as Peel and York regions — to the city's west and north — are already in the grey "lockdown" level of Ontario's tiered pandemic response framework but Tory said broader and stricter regulations are necessary.

"We're trying to avoid a situation which some of the projections ... show could be way, way worse in January if we don't take further action now," he said.

Toronto reported 850 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, a record high for the city. It also reported 19 more deaths linked to the virus.

Tory said he has been in regular contact with Premier Doug Ford, including Wednesday morning, and that whatever the city and province decide to do will have to be announced before the current lockdown period expires on Monday.

"I think we need to do more and not less, I think it needs to be regional in nature so that we leave people with fewer options as to where they might go," the mayor said.

"We need people to stay home and socialize only with the people they live with. That's what we need more than anything else."

Dr. Eileen De Villa, Toronto's chief medical officer of health, said cases of the virus in the city have spiked since Thanksgiving.

She said data shows there were 25,000 cases of COVID-19 in Toronto between Jan. 25 and Oct. 20, and it took less than eight weeks to double that number.

De Villa noted that those numbers are only the "tip of the iceberg" because they only reflect positive test results.

The true number of infected people in the city is unknown because asymptomatic individuals usually aren't tested, she said.

"Those people are able to spread infection and never know it," said De Villa. "Possibly spreading it to someone who won't be as lucky to experience mild disease."

De Villa also pointed to anonymized data from cell phones that indicated Torontonians stayed home in the spring, but are now more likely to go to work or visit loved ones, increasing the chance of infection.

"Our call to action has never been clearer," said De Villa. "I cannot urge you strongly enough to keep apart during the holidays."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 16, 2020.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press