No movies, no malls: Canada's cities find new ways to beat the heat in pandemic

People maintain social distance as they sit at Cherry Beach while the province prepares for more phased re-openings from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in Toronto, Ontario, Canada May 24, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian cities are opening air-conditioned recreation centers and libraries on Tuesday to allow people to cool off during a heat wave at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has shut down public swimming pools, shopping malls, movie theaters and other places that normally offer relief.

Canada’s environment ministry has issued a heat warning for parts of Ontario and Quebec, the two most populous provinces and the epicenter of the country’s coronavirus outbreak. In Ottawa, humidity will make temperatures feel like 37 degrees Celsius (98.6°F) over the next three days.

Facilities like outdoor pools or air conditioned malls and movie theaters are closed in many cities to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

“None of that is available now,” City of Toronto spokesman Brad Ross told Reuters.

“We’re in a bit of a wait-and-see in terms of what can reopen and when, but in the meantime we’re going to continue to work hard to find other appropriate facilities that we can use,” Ross said when asked about the city’s plans for the rest of the summer.

Toronto, with a population of 2.9 million, has opened six emergency cooling centers with a total of 580 spots for Tuesday and Wednesday. Six buses will serve as overflow.

The air-conditioned centers, the city said, are for people with no access to a cool space. Health checks for COVID-19 and physical spacing rules will be applied.

In Hamilton, which is also in Ontario, people who go to any of their eight emergency cooling centers will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms, a statement said. People are also encouraged to wear a mask.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam told reporters juggling the risks of extreme heat and the coronavirus will be a “challenge” for municipalities, and respecting public health advice is key.

Reporting by Kelsey Johnson in Ottawa, editing by Steve Scherer and David Gregorio