In another sign of growing concern over the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, the city of Toronto canceled its plans to force nearly 9,000 employees working remotely to return to city offices beginning January 4. .

The city notes in a Monday news release that last Friday, Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer for health, urged employers to allow staff to continue working from home to prevent a resurgence of the virus.

“As a result of this guideline change, city office staff will continue to work remotely until there are changes to these provincial public health guidelines,” the city news release reads.

Mayor John Tory announced on November 30 that roughly a quarter of the city’s 32,000 active employees who work remotely would have to return to their workplaces at least three days a week beginning January 4.

He said it was important to send a signal to downtown employers that it’s time to help rejuvenate Toronto’s ailing core by safely and carefully filling office towers and other workplaces that many other businesses depend on.

When asked then why he was pushing for employees to start engaging again given the newly discovered Omicron variant, Tory said, “We had to have a plan, and a plan requires a date,” for city services and workplaces return to normal operations before the pandemic. .

“At no point would we do anything that is contrary to the best interests of the health of our own employees, but here we have a dividend that is paid by the fact that we have almost 100 percent (of the city’s staff) vaccinated.”

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In a statement Monday, Tory acknowledged that the COVID-19 situation is too precarious for workers to return to the offices.

“Given the new provincial council, the city manager has advised employees who can work remotely to continue to do so until the public health council changes,” Tory wrote.

“I remain as committed as ever to Toronto’s recovery from this pandemic, and continuing to abide by public health advice, particularly at this time with the new Omicron variant, will help us do so and ensure Toronto returns stronger than ever.

“I also want to encourage all who are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19 to take this important step and remind those who are eligible to reserve their third dose as soon as they can.”

The news will disappoint some members of Toronto’s business community concerned about the economic future of the city’s core. The Toronto Region Board of Trade had welcomed Tory’s earlier promise as an important sign that the core is beginning to emerge from pandemic ruin.

Roughly 67 percent of the 550,000 workers who had concentrated in the core every day, instead, worked remotely, devastating small businesses that rely on foot traffic, while Toronto lost billions of dollars in expenses from foreign business travelers.

A relatively empty downtown could also affect the city’s business tax revenue.

The city has also abandoned plans to fully reopen the city hall and other city buildings at the same time that city staff were supposed to return to them.

Counter services that reopened in August will remain open, but no other changes are planned for now, the city said, noting that during the pandemic it has expanded online options for people to obtain permits and other services.

David Rider is the head of Star’s City Council office and a reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider
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