TORONTO — Canada's most populous city has announced the end of the municipal emergency it declared when the COVID-19 pandemic hit but says its fight against the virus isn't over.
Toronto Mayor John Tory ended the state of emergency on Monday – it had been declared on March 23, 2020 – and said it was "one more sign that the city is returning to a more normal state of existence."
"I'm very happy today that we're able to be here saying the state of emergency after 777 days is to be lifted," Tory said outside city hall.
"Things keep getting better. The numbers keep getting better, the number of people getting vaccinated (keeps) getting better, and I think that's what it means to me – it's just that we're on the right track."
The emergency declaration allowed the city to redeploy roughly 1,700 public employees to shelters, long-term care homes and other areas that required extra support during the pandemic, Tory said. All but 40 of those redeployed employees have now returned to their original jobs, he added.
Tory also noted that the city's pandemic management team — which includes himself; the city's medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa; and Toronto fire Chief Matthew Pegg — held a total of 354 meetings during the state of emergency.
Despite terminating the emergency order, Tory warned that the pandemic is not over and stressed that people are still getting sick with COVID-19.
He said the city will continue its vaccination efforts, receive public health guidance from de Villa and her team, offer recovery supports and maintain masking in high-risk settings like public transit – as required under a provincial order until at least June 11.
"I want people to understand that by taking away the state of emergency in the city, we are not ending our fight against COVID 19. We know the COVID-19 is still active in the city," Tory said.
When asked whether he would reinstate a state of emergency if the COVID-19 situation in Toronto gets worse, Tory said he would seek the advice of de Villa, city manager Chris Murray and others before coming to that decision.
"If circumstances arise in the future that require another state of emergency, while you don't ever take these decisions lightly, I can assure you, I'll get advice, I'll consider it, I'll ask questions as I do and I will do what is right," he said.
De Villa said Toronto's COVID-19 indicators are either decreasing or holding stable this week, adding that she's "encouraged" to see signs of improvement in Toronto's health system capacity, as well as in weekly case rates, per cent positivity and wastewater signals.
"These are positive signs that, coupled with this warmer weather, give us hope that COVID-19 activity in the city will continue to decrease," she said.
However, de Villa also cautioned that those indicators and the end of the municipal state of emergency are not a signal "to let our guard down when it comes to COVID-19."
She advised Toronto residents to take advantage of the warmer weather by organizing social gatherings outdoors as much as possible, to mask in indoor public settings and crowded spaces and to get vaccinated to stay protected against COVID-19.
"I know that we all want this pandemic to be over. While today, there are many reasons for hope, the pandemic does continue and COVID-19 is still circulating in our communities," she said. "We still need to be vigilant and ensure that we are doing all that we can to protect one another."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 9, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Noushin Ziafati, The Canadian Press