Time for Torontonians to lead more normal lives, says city’s public health chief

As odd as it may feel after two years of following restrictions enacted to combat COVID-19, the time has come for Toronto residents to return to more normal routines, the city’s mayor and medical officer of health said Wednesday.

“We have passed the Omicron peak here in Ontario and in Toronto, and key COVID-19 severity indicators continue to improve,” said Dr. Eileen de Villa, speaking at the city’s weekly pandemic press conference.

She said that daily hospitalizations and ICU admissions have declined significantly from highs seen in early January.

Nearly 90 per cent of Toronto residents have received two vaccinations, said Toronto Board of Health chair Joe Cressy (Ward 10 Spadina – Fort York). Those who are vaccinated generally experience less severe symptoms, which has helped reduce hospitalizations and ICU admissions.

“We can gradually loosen restrictions that just a few short weeks ago were so necessary. This doesn’t mean that COVID is over, but now is the time to begin to live more fulsome lives,” the Villa said.

“For some, these steps could not come soon enough. Others are concerned that these steps will only set us back or are being relaxed too quickly. Given what we’ve lived through, together, these feelings are entirely understandable.”

Although provincial restrictions eased on March 1, the provincial mask mandate remains in place and city of Toronto bylaws mandating that masks be worn in public indoor spaces, including in common areas in condominiums and apartment buildings, are not set to expire until after Toronto council’s meeting on Apr 6.

On Wednesday, de Villa and Mayor John Tory indicated that Toronto would be open to reviewing the bylaws if the province were to lift public masking mandates sooner — several provinces have already lifted them, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford has indicated his government is close to lifting them.

“It makes sense to try to achieve a consistency so the public can easily understand what’s going on with something as important as masking,” said Tory.

dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel’s medical officer of health, has said he is unlikely to recommend extending local mask mandates beyond March, as long as current trends remain stable.

Tory on Wednesday also announced a new “Vax and Read” vaccination program that will see 22 vaccine clinics open in 12 Toronto Public Library branches across the city, from Wednesday, March 2 to Wednesday, March 16.

The clinics will focus on areas of the city with lower vaccination rates.

A full list of locations and hours can be found here.

According to a city press release, the clinics will operate on a walk-in basis; no registration or appointments are required. Clinics will offer first, second, third and pediatric COVID-19 vaccine doses. Both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be available.

Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter covering city hall and municipal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF

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