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Ford government backtracks on playground closures

Last Updated Apr 17, 2021 at 9:29 pm EDT

Premier Doug Ford says his government will amend newly announced stay-at-home restrictions to allow for playgrounds to be open.

“Our regulations will be amended to allow playgrounds but gatherings outside will still be enforced. Play outside safely,” the premier said in a tweet Saturday.

The move comes after a number of municipal leaders, along with parents and medical professionals questioned the government’s move to close outdoor facilities.

“I was out for a walk with Theo & he was pretty upset that playgrounds are closed. His dad agrees,” tweeted Brampton mayor Patrick Brown. “I will be consulting City Council & our solicitor on whether we can legally decline a provincial order.”

Similar sentiments from Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie, calling on the province to review its decision to restrict outdoor recreational activities.

“Health experts have been clear on this: outdoor activity is essential to people’s physical and mental health and transmission is extremely rare.”

Barrie mayor Jeff Lehman tweeted that closing playgrounds “makes zero sense.”

Ottawa mayor Jim Watson tweeted a photo of an empty playground in his neighbourhood, noting “we can promote physical distancing and still allow kids to get some fresh air and exercise.”

Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician with St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, said limiting outdoor gatherings could “shoot (the government) in the foot.”

He said it could push people who would otherwise gather outdoors to congregate inside, where they won’t be so easily detected by police.

“It’s a whole lot easier, when you’re talking about enforcement rules with police, to actually just congregate indoors away from the watchful eye,” he said. “If you start forcing people indoors — where they’re not being watched, where they can congregate easily — you’re defeating the point of these restrictions.”

He pointed to a study out of Ireland that found that even during an outbreak of the B.1.1.7 variant, which first emerged in the U.K., just 0.1 per cent of cases originated outdoors.

“So 99.9 per cent are associated with the indoors,” he said.

Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease physician with Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont., tweeted that the move is “fraught with visibility bias.”

He said it is “not a good risk mitigation strategy.”

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease expert who sits on the province’s COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force, also slammed the outdoor closures saying the move does not make scientific sense. “Science is clear: Outdoor COVID transmission is extremely rare.”

Golf courses are among the facilities included in the latest round of provincial closures.

The news came as a disappointment to Brian Decker, director of communications with TPC Toronto, home to three golf courses.

“There’s been a lot of messaging about encouraging people to get outside, and golf has been a safe way to do that,” he said. “Golf is really the perfect sport for this kind of situation.”

But he said he understands the need for the government to take action, and TPC Toronto will comply with the new measures.

That means closing the courses immediately after officially opening to annual members – a bitter pill to swallow.

The golf course had just hired and trained new staff and ordered inventory for what little food and beverage service they were allowed to offer, he said.

“You prepare for business and the very same day that you open, you find out you have to close again.”

The new restrictions, which included an extension to stay-at-home order until May 20, were announced Friday amid dire warnings from government scientific advisers that the pandemic was only set to worsen.

Ford said the province was “on its heels” and the measures were urgently needed to bring the province’s raging COVID-19 situation under control.

But experts said Ford had missed the mark on key drivers of the pandemic, including a lack of paid sick leave for essential workers and dearth of evidence playgrounds have been a transmission source.

Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report

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