Toronto Mayor John Tory has declared a state of emergency, effective immediately, to help deal with the spread of the novel coronavirus.
This is the first time the city of Toronto has declared an emergency.
The declaration allows the mayor to make all the decisions that city council can make, but without the need to go to a council vote. It does not change the level three status of the city’s Emergency Operation Centre.
In a press briefing on Monday, Tory said he was declaring the emergency after taking into consideration the advice of Fire Chief Matthew Pegg and Medical Officer of Health Eileen De Villa, who suggested it would be helpful in making decisions as quickly as possible to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Fire Chief Matthew Pegg explained that the declaration implements a legal construct that enhances the city’s ability to be nimble. It delegates additional authority on the mayor to make certain decisions, in accordance with the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, “in the event where those decisions are necessary.”
“I think people know they can trust me to carry out those very heavy responsibilities in a way that is responsible and that is prudent and that is exactly what I’ll do,” said Tory, adding that a majority of the city councillors supported the decision.
Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, said they made the recommendation to Tory based on their observations of how the pandemic was playing out in the city and around the world, but that the “driving factor” was people not heeding their strong social distancing suggestions.
“At this time, given where we are, we really felt that this was important and allowed for the flexibility and that agility that we need in order to address the health and safety of Torontonians,” she said. “Certainly if there was a particular issue or driving factor, it would be that we need to see better and more social distancing. There continue to be a number of people congregating in a way that frankly, is not helpful, in terms of what were seeking to achieve in terms of trying to protect the health of our city.”
Chief Pegg added the decision is about the city continuing to be proactive in the fight against the novel coronavirus.
“It is about us staying ahead and remaining in the position where we can effectively and efficiently manage this emergency, as it evolves, in the most expeditious way possible,” he said.
While addressing the provincial shutdown of non-essential businesses declared by Premier Doug Ford earlier in the day, both Mayor Tory and Dr. de Villa said they strongly supported the measure. While the provincial deadline is 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday night, de Villa urged businesses to close as soon as possible.
In regards to LCBO locations remaining open during the emergency, Dr. de Villa said there is a reasonable rationale for that decision.
“Whether we care to admit it or not, there are many people in our community who have significant dependence issues with respect to alcohol. I think we have to be very conscious of that fact and be aware, that if that provision is no longer available, that would lead to pretty significant health consequences,” she said.
The TTC will also continue to run at full capacity, despite suffering significant revenue loss due to reduced ridership over the last few weeks. Tory said the transit agency will maintain normal levels of service at this time to ensure front-line workers can get to work.
Construction sites have been another contentious issue and Mayor Tory said the emergency declaration does not give him the authority to shut them down, adding that it’s probably a decision best left to the province.
“This is a very complicated matter,” said Tory, adding that safety is top priority but they also have to try not to put more people out of work than necessary. He said he will continue to have discussions with the province to ensure construction workers’ health and employment are protected.
In terms of other emergency measures such an implementing a curfew, Tory said there has been no discussion of that.
“If people followed the advice that they’ve been given in terms of staying home and minimizing trips outside the home for any purpose … there’d be no need for a curfew,” he said.
Tory said all these efforts are to make sure the pandemic is brought to a halt as soon as possible.
“Have a sense of hope about this. This a great city full of strong, resilient people and we have to give each other hope,” said Tory. “The more [people] cooperate, the faster we’ll be through it.”