Ontario’s government is extending the provincewide stay-at-home order for an additional two weeks until at least June 2 with outdoor amenities and schools staying closed in the meantime.
The announcement comes with current stay-at-home and lockdown measures set to expire on May 20.
The stay-at-home order requires everyone to remain at home except for specified purposes, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services (including getting vaccinated), for outdoor exercise, or for work that cannot be done remotely.
In-person shopping and non-essential stores, including malls, will remain closed. Big box stores are strictly limited to selling essential items only.
Outdoor amenities such as golf courses, tennis and basketball courts will be restricted, however, Premier Doug Ford says that after June 2, with the latest stay-at-home order set to expire, it’s then the government will look into reopening outdoor recreational amenities.
The decision to keep outdoor sports shuttered contrasts with the opinion of health experts who stress these settings are safe.
The government’s science advisers have said banning outdoor activities will not control COVID-19 and disproportionately harm children and those who don’t have access to their own green space.
Premier Ford acknowledged the criticism but said that measures would stay in place to limit mobility and other behaviour that could contribute to the spread of the virus.
“They pick up another buddy, two or three go out, go golfing, there’s nothing wrong with golfing,” he said. “The problem is, then after golf they go back, they have some pops. That’s the problem.”
It’s Ford’s first appearance in weeks after he returned to question period last week for the first time since he was deemed to be in close contact with a staffer who had tested positive for COVID-19.
Ford said the goal was to vaccinate as many people as possible against COVID-19 in the next few weeks.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Ford said on Thursday. “We must stay vigilant and continue to do what we’re doing. My goal is to have the most normal July and August possible.”
He has only made a total of four public appearances since April 16, two were at new conferences while in isolation and two were at question period.
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As part of Thursday’s announcement, the province also says that as of May 31, it will begin to accept Pfizer vaccine appointments for youth aged between 12 and 17 with first doses tentatively slated to be administered through June 14 to June 21.
Virtual learning will continue provincewide.
“Expanding vaccines to youth 12 and up will bring us one step closer to normalcy for our students,” said Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education.
“We are focused on delivering a safe, stable, and well-resourced learning experience with an additional $1.6-billion in resources to protect students and school communities in the 2021-22 school year.”
Today’s announcement on extending provincial restrictions comes one day after the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) issued a statement saying they support the government extending the lockdown and recommend easing restrictions on outdoor recreation where it is safe to do so.
“We all want the third wave to be the last wave,” said OMA President Dr. Samantha Hill.
“We’re just not ready yet to reopen. No one wants to start lifting restrictions too soon, only to find the virus spreading again and we have to go back into lockdown.”
Chief Medical officer of Health Dr. David Williams said earlier this week that Ontario would need to see daily COVID-19 case counts below 1,000 in order to loosen and ease restrictions.
The stay-at-home order and an increase in daily vaccinations have improved the circumstances across Ontario with lower daily COVID-19 case counts and positivity rate.
On Thursday, the province reported its lowest test positivity rate (5.7 percent) since April 3. As a result, the seven-day average of daily cases fell to 2,731 – its lowest point in about five weeks.
The province also administered over 130,000 vaccinations; just below its capacity of 150,000 per day.
In another positive trend, various COVID-19 hotspots – such Toronto, Peel Region, and York Region – are seeing a decrease in their Effective Reproduction Number (Rt); which measures the average number of people one sick person can infect.
If Rt is greater than 1, it means the outbreak is growing. As of Wednesday, none of the aforementioned public health units are recording an Rt above 1 (0.82 in Toronto, 0.95 in Peel Region, and 0.96 in York Region).
From May 5 to 12, the number of patients with COVID-related critical illness in intensive care has also decreased from 877 to 776.
“We’re still at a point where the trajectory is on a downward slope, but it’s still taking a while for the numbers to come down,” said Dr. Thomas Tenkate, associate professor at the Ryerson School of Occupational and Public Health.
“What we need to do is hold fast with the current restrictions to drive the numbers down to a level where we can start opening up.”
“I think we are still looking at June through July before we start to ease off.”
The province’s associate medical officer of health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, said last week that while daily COVID-19 case numbers are headed down, hospitals still face serious capacity issues.
Public health experts continue to argue that outdoor recreation offers people a good outlet while being relatively safe. Elliott said last week the province currently has no timeline for the reopening of facilities such as tennis courts and golf courses.
The health minister said the number of hospitalizations and patients in ICUs would have to go down and a backlog of surgeries would have to be worked through before the ban on outdoor sports could be lifted.
Since his return from isolation, Ford has repeated his calls for the federal government to do more to tighten border restrictions.
The premier issued another letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, arguing additional measures — such as quarantine requirements for travellers coming into Canada by land – are needed to curb the spread of more contagious COVID-19 variants.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair responded to the calls, saying Ontario’s pandemic problems have largely come from community transmission which has led to outbreaks in workplaces and shared living spaces.
Reports earlier this week suggested the Ford government has yet to rule out a return to in-person learning in areas with low rates of COVID-19.
On Monday, Dr. Williams said he wants to see schools re-open before anything else, and “as soon as we can.”
Ontario reported another 2,759 cases of COVID-19 and 31 additional deaths linked to the virus this morning.
With files from the Canadian Press