More than two years after COVID-19 first struck, Toronto hasn't gotten back to even half its level of pre-pandemic activity, lagging behind many cities in North America, according to a new study.
A joint project between the University of Toronto and the University of California, Berkeley called "Death of Downtown?" compared mobile device activity in 62 metropolises between March and May of this year, against the same time frame in 2019.
The research found downtown Toronto had only gotten back up to 46 per cent of pre-pandemic levels of activity— about the same as Calgary, New Orleans, and Oakland, Calif.— placing it 52nd on the list.
Most Canadian cities fared similarly, all reaching between 43 and 56 per cent of pre-pandemic activity levels.
A major factor is that Canada was slower to come out of its COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, said study co-author Karen Chapple, who is the director of the School of Cities at the University of Toronto.
"People went home at Omicron," she said, referring to the huge wave of infections brought on by the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus that spread around the world in late 2021.
"So that delayed the comeback," Chapple told CBC Toronto.
The only Canadian outlier was Halifax, which reached 72 per cent.
"Halifax is the number-one comeback city in Canada," Chapple said. "We think it's because of all the new residents that came ... They're working from home but they're living downtown."
She said Toronto is best compared to a place like New York City, which serves the same function in the U.S. as Toronto does in Canada. But New York City has bounced back a lot faster, and was at 78 per cent of its pre-pandemic activity this year.
Downtown Toronto has a lot of professional service workers at places such as law firms and insurance companies, which don't necessarily require a return to the office, Chapple said.
"[New York] has a much more diverse economy, and I think that's one of the main lessons here," Chapple said.