Toronto is bracing for surging COVID-19 rates in the new year, starting with further restrictions on businesses.
Dr. Eileen De Villa, the city's chief medical officer of health, said on Wednesday that Toronto will announce new restrictions on businesses early next week in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
"These steps by Toronto Public Health are meant to create as much distance and safety as possible while respecting many people need to work," said De Villa, adding that businesses also need to stay open to provide the goods and services everyone needs.
The new restrictions come after Toronto reported a record 1,069 new cases on Wednesday, up from 957 cases it reported Tuesday.
De Villa said that those back-to-back highs likely don't reflect a spike public health officials are expecting following Christmas. That wave will start to be seen within the next two to five days.
"We should brace for an extended period of potentially unsettling and discouraging numbers in terms of COVID-19 infections in Toronto," said De Villa.
She also said that, based on infection rates, every neighbourhood in Toronto would now qualify for Ontario's red zone of restrictions, the second-highest level in the province's recovery framework.
De Villa admitted that she's frustrated seeing the rising case numbers even after Toronto's prolonged time in lockdown and almost daily warnings about safety precautions.
"It pains me to see this much level of virus transmission in our city," said De Villa. "Especially when I know that it is preventable, there is much within our control."
She said that she's not giving up hope, however.
"I never give up on the three million residents of Toronto who I consider to be my patients," said De Villa, emphasizing that if people stay home and avoid close contact with people outside their household the city's infection rates will go down.
Fire chief Matthew Pegg, who is Toronto’s COVID-19 incident commander, said he knows people are tired and frustrated, but he remains optimistic.
"Don't give up. We are close, there is a light on the horizon," said Pegg. "That light is in the form of a COVID-19 vaccine and we are going to get there.
"The very moment that those vaccines are available for us in the City of Toronto we will make sure that we are ready to administer them for the purpose of putting this all behind us."
Mayor John Tory also announced that the annual New Year's Eve party at Nathan Phillips Square will not be held. Instead, virtual celebrations will be held online and Toronto residents are encouraged to stay home.
Tory also announced that emergency daycare services would be available for front-line workers as Toronto's lockdown continues into January.
He also said that the city's free lunch programs will continue for children even as schools remain closed after the winter holidays end.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 30, 2020.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press