Toronto Public Health officials issued a sweeping round of recommendations Monday, telling bars and restaurants to halt dine-in service and advising movie theatres, nightclubs and concert venues to close.

The new directives come as the city acknowledged at a news conference Monday that there is some evidence of community spread, meaning cases where someone has contracted the virus without having travelled or been in close contact with someone who has travelled.

“We have some evidence of community transmission," said Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s chief medical officer of health. She said she knows of three cases “for which links could not be found,” and added that those cases are still under investigation.

She declined to provide an estimate for how many cases there might be in Toronto if community spread is a factor, saying any estimates would be based on unproven mathematical models.

The instructions for restaurants and bars means that those establishments are to stop offering dine-in service as of 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday.

While the city phrased the directive as a “recommendation,” de Villa said that any business that fails to comply could face orders to close under the Health Protection and Promotion Act. Any business violating such an order could face a penalty of up to $25,000 per day, de Villa said.

She said that while she understands that this move will not be easy for businesses and many individuals, she said it is imperative that the city, as a whole, acts now to halt any further spread of the virus.

"These decisions are not easy. We will get through this and we need your help,” de Villa said.

"We do know that social distancing and effective social distancing is what makes a difference. We've seen this in other jurisdictions as well," she said, adding that “every interaction avoided helps to flatten the curve.”

She urged people to stay home if possible.

Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said that emergency services and transit service continue to function. However de Villa urged people to practice social distancing as best they can if they do need to use transit.

The sweeping measures announced by the city Monday comes as provincial health officials Monday updated their advice to discourage any gatherings of more than 50 people at a time.

The move also comes just a day ahead of St. Patrick’s Day, traditionally a day for massive gatherings at bars and pubs.

“Businesses that provide food takeout and delivery options are encouraged to keep those options available to continue to provide the public with food options while limiting social interactions between people,” the city said in a news release.

“Many restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and theatres have already taken the important step of voluntarily closing their doors to the seated public during the pandemic response. Dr. de Villa is encouraging the rest of the industry to follow that example for the health of our entire community.”

Peel public health also said that they are likewise recommending the closure of nightclubs, movie theatres and concert venues effective 12:01 a.m. on March 17.

In a statement Monday, Uber Eats said that it was moving to support restaurants by waiving delivery fees on all Uber Eats orders from independent restaurants across Canada and the U.S., introducing a new program allowing restaurants to receive daily rather than weekly payouts and pledging to deliver 300,000 free meals to health care workers and other relief workers.

Rules for deliveries relaxed as store shelves go bare

The city also moved Monday to help alleviate some of the shortages brought on due to panic shopping at grocery stores.

Retailers will be exempted from the city’s noise bylaws so that they can receive deliveries 24 hours a day and “ensure essential goods remain in stock,” the city said.

The exemption is being issued following a request from the Retail Council of Canada.

It is “effective immediately and until further notice,” according to the city.

“We are taking this action to help Toronto businesses get deliveries and continue to stock their shelves with essential goods for our residents,” Mayor John Tory said in a press release. “By exempting retail businesses from the city's noise bylaw right now, we will ensure that retailers can receive deliveries 24 hours of a day, seven days a week.”

According to the release, the city’s noise bylaw includes the ability to provide an exemption “in response to extraordinary circumstances affecting the immediate health, safety or welfare of the community.”

Task force established

The news of the exemption comes hours after Tory announced that he was forming a task force to help protect the economy from the “devastating impact” the spread of the virus is already having on business.

In a news release issued early Monday morning, Tory said that the task force “will identify immediate and longer-term economic recovery strategies for residents and businesses, with a focus on supporting those segments of the economy that are most strongly impacted by COVID-19, such as tourism, hospitality and entertainment.”

He said that as part of the task force’s work, he will be conducting conference calls with groups of key stakeholders. That work will begin today with a trio of conference calls with representatives from the film, hospitality and tourism industries, which he says have been “very hard hit” by the global pandemic.

Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson and Budget Chief Gary Crawford will also be participating in the calls.

“What we are asking them is what can we do to help you now and help your employees now and what can the other governments do to help you,” Tory told CP24 from his home on Monday, where he is in self-isolation as a precaution after returning from the United Kingdom last week. “For example, the federal government has announced $10 billion (in economic relief) but we need to make sure that money is spent properly to protect jobs and protect the economy.”

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Five immediate measures

Tory said that the purpose of the task force will be to “quickly determine what current supports and stimulus work needs to be done” to protect the city’s economy in these “unprecedented times.”

There are, however, several immediate measures that the city will take to provide some economic relief in the interim.

Tory said that the city will be providing businesses with a grace period for tax and other City of Toronto payments for at least the next 30 days and will also be calling on the provincial and federal governments to wave the penalties for business owners failing to remit HST on time.

He said that the city will also be “establishing a substantial contingency fund to support businesses and affected group” and will expand its small business advisory services to further assist business which are hurting. As well, Tory committed to ensuring that workers are paid for shifts that were planned for city-run daycares, museums, and recreation centres, which are now shuttered.

“I just want people to know that we are on this,” he said.

Tory pleas with residents to self-isolate

There have been 145 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ontario so far with the province adding 42 to the tally on Sunday alone.

Tory said that the Toronto’s medical officer of health may give some further indication later today of the need for people to self-isolate at home and avoid being in groups, when possible.

He said that people should, however, “disregard” rumours they may hear about other actions the governments could be planning.

“This something where you don’t know where it is going to end but you also don’t know where it is going to go in the meantime and people need to understand that the governments are doing their very best to make adjustments to the different closures and things we have going and I think you are going to learn more about that today but please cooperate with what you are asked to do on self-isolation,” Tory said. “We are doing our very best, everyone is, to make sure that this is dealt with in a way in which Toronto can come out the other end successful, strong and healthy.”