TORONTO — Premier Doug Ford committed $20 million in funding for Ontario researchers working on a vaccine for COVID-19, as cases of the virus topped 10,000 in the province.

Ford warned that life won’t return to normal without a vaccine.

“Until we find a vaccine, going back to normal means putting lives at risk,” said Ford during his daily press conference on Saturday.

“Letting our guard down means potentially exposing millions of people to the virus.”

Ford has said “encouraging” new projections about the spread of COVID-19 are set to be released on Monday, but added that loosening restrictions will be a methodical process that will be “twice as hard” as the current lockdown.

“I’m not rushing into this and not opening up the floodgates,” said Ford, as Health Minister Christine Elliott added that easing restrictions too quickly would put the province at a risk of an explosion of cases.

Health officials reported another 36 deaths related to COVID-19 on Saturday, bringing the toll to 514.

There are 250 people in intensive care with the virus, most of whom are on a ventilator.

The premier touted Ontario’s history of medical accomplishments — including discovering insulin and pioneering open-heart surgery — as reasons why researchers in the province could find a vaccine.

Researchers in the province have already made progress in vaccine research and a team from Sunnybrook Research Institute has isolated the virus, which is one of the first steps in producing a vaccine.

Ford said multiple universities are also working together to acquire blood samples from people who have recovered from COVID-19.

However, the provincial opposition said the Ford government slashed $25 million from the provincial Health System Research Fund one year ago, a move they say set researchers back.

“Researchers could have been working on the global challenge of a COVID-19 vaccine earlier, if Doug Ford hadn’t cut their funding and wound down their work a year ago,” said NDP Research and Innovation critic Catherine Fife.

Meanwhile in Toronto, Mayor John Tory said he’s started discussions with city officials about when regular life can restart, although he is also warning that the time hasn’t come yet.

Tory said there’s no ‘on and off switch’ for physical distancing, and that changes will be made in phases.

“We are very much still waging war against this virus,” said Tory. “Lives are still at risk and we cannot take our foot off the gas when it comes to all our collective efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Ontario’s chief medical officer health said that while cases are increasing at a relatively low rate of five per cent per day, he wants to see the number drop lower before restrictions are eased.

However, Dr. David Williams said it was encouraging to see that cases are not increasing by 13 per cent per day, as they were a few weeks ago.

“It means the distancing we have is limiting the spread,” said Williams.

Williams said the decision to re-open businesses will take place on a case by case basis and will take into account which businesses can uphold physical distancing measures while operating.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 18, 2020.

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