Canada's financial capital, Toronto, set for muted reopening as big banks keep staff home

By Nichola Saminather

TORONTO (Reuters) - Toronto, Canada's financial capital, was set for a muted reopening on Wednesday following a three-month shutdown for the coronavirus pandemic, as several of its biggest employers said they would keep staff working from home over the summer.

Downtown Toronto streets, normally gridlocked on pre-pandemic weekdays, remained mostly free of traffic during what would have been the morning rush hour in the country's most populous city.

Ontario, Canada's largest province by population, started gradually reopening its economy this month, but Toronto, which suffered more than 1,000 deaths, was left off the initial list.

But even with Toronto's reopening, Canada's three biggest lenders, Royal Bank of Canada (TO:RY), Toronto-Dominion Bank (TO:TD) and Bank of Nova Scotia (TO:BNS), and second-biggest life insurer Sun Life Financial (TO:SLF) told Reuters they don't intend to bring staff back to offices until at least September.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (TO:CM) said staff will continue to work remotely "for an extended period of time."

Brookfield Asset Management (TO:BAM) has reoriented desks and reduced meeting-room capacity, and plans to bring employees back gradually, a spokeswoman said.

Even so, high-rise office buildings in Toronto stood ready for occupants' return.

Brookfield, one of the biggest downtown landlords, has disinfected buildings, cleaned air distribution systems and water supply tanks and had them independently tested, the spokeswoman said.

In office towers, signs instructed staff to keep their distance. Elevators sported stickers limiting riders to a few at a time.

The PATH, a 30-kilometer (18.6 miles) below-ground pedestrian walkway connecting about 75 buildings, and the world's largest underground shopping complex, also had messages urging users to stay safe.

Canadian provinces imposed the lockdowns in March to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has killed 8,454 people in Canada and infected 101,963, according to the latest government data.