Toronto Orders Workplaces Shut to ‘Slam Brakes’ on Outbreaks

Toronto health authorities will order workplaces across Canada’s biggest city to close if they have more than five confirmed cases of Covid-19.

The decision Tuesday overrides less stringent provincial orders, and follows a similar move by Peel Region, a western suburb. It comes as the city struggles to contain a surge in variant cases that threatens to collapse the local health-care system.

Workplaces, or portions of workplaces, will be required to close for at least 10 calendar days if five or more confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been identified in a two-week period. Some -- notably childcare centers, healthcare facilities and those providing critical services -- may be exempt. The order will be issued on April 23rd, the city said.

Toronto Orders Workplaces Shut to ‘Slam Brakes’ on Outbreaks

“We are doing everything we can as a City government to help essential workers facing the third wave of this virus,” Mayor John Tory said in the statement announcing the decision. “This Section 22 order is meant to help slam the brakes on workplace outbreaks that we know are moving much faster due to the variants of concern.”

It’s not the first time the city has moved ahead of provincial orders. Earlier this month, it was among a handful of local health authorities that ordered schools to close in defiance of Premier Doug Ford’s pledge to keep them open. A provincewide school closure followed less than a week later, as cases continued to surge.

Shutting down businesses could have a “catastrophic” impact on Ontario’s manufacturing sector, potentially endangering the supply of food, drugs and personal protective equipment, the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters warned after the Peel decision.

“By taking these actions without a broader coordinated approach, the Region of Peel is putting the integrity of our supply chain at risk,” Dennis Darby, the industry group’s chief executive, said in a statement. The organization called on the province to intervene with a coordinated plan “connected to broader societal and economic realities.”

Last week, Ontario imposed its strictest measures yet, setting up checkpoints along the neighboring Quebec and Manitoba borders and granting police powers to stop people randomly to demand to know why they’re not at home. However, it stopped short of shutting down warehouses or manufacturing facilities, or lowering the capacity at which “essential” businesses can operate.

Backlash, including by police, prompted Ford to backtrack on the random checks amid concern they would disproportionately affect lower-income and racialized communities already hardest hit by the pandemic. Critics, including many doctors and health officials, argued that Ford’s focus should be on tighter restrictions for businesses to contain the virus.

Intensive care units in Toronto and other parts of the province have been overwhelmed by the recent surge in cases. Vaccination efforts have shifted to so-called “hot spots,” which are typically characterized by high numbers of employees who don’t have the ability to work from home.

“In many ways, the story of this pandemic is also a story about work. It’s the essential front-line workers who can’t work from home who have kept us safe, and who are also at highest risk of contracting Covid-19,” Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, said in the statement.

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