The province has released a three-step economic plan for reopening Ontario based on decreased daily COVID-19 case counts, lower hospitalization rates, and the percentage of vaccinated residents that will see restrictions gradually lift through the summer, into September.
The Ford government revealed what it calls the “Roadmap to Reopen,” highlighting what will be allowed provincewide beginning with outdoor activities resuming Saturday, May 22.
Ontario anticipates entering the first step of this roadmap by June 14 and each step will be in place for at least 21 days.
The province-wide emergency brake restrictions remain in effect while the province assesses when it will be moving to step one of the roadmap.
Once 60 percent of adults have one dose of a vaccine, larger outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed, as well as outdoor dining for up to four people per table.
Essential retail will be capped at 25 percent with non-essential retail maxed at 15 percent.
Day camps, campsites and campgrounds – including Ontario Parks and outdoor sports of up to 10 people – will be allowed under this step.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said Thursday that 58 percent of adults have been vaccinated with one dose, meaning the province is on track to kick off the first step based on its current progress.
Then, once the province reaches the 70 percent vaccination threshold (with 20 percent fully vaccinated), indoor gatherings will be able to resume as outdoor activities expand.
This will see a max of 25 people allowed to get together outdoors with a cap of 5 people inside. Outdoor dining will expand to allow for up to 6 people per table, essential retail will have a max capacity of 50 percent and non-essential will be capped at 25 percent.
Under this specific threshold, personal care services – such as barbershops and hair salons – will be able to reopen as long as face coverings are worn at all times.
Notably, outdoor cinemas, performance arts, and live performances will also get the green light.
“This has to be done slowly and with extreme caution,” Doug Ford said. “That is the only way it will work.”
And finally, once the province gets to vaccinate roughly 70-80 percent of the population with one shot and 25 percent fully vaccinated against the virus, restrictions will lift further, allowing for large outdoor and indoor gatherings, indoor dining, and essential and non-essential retail opening at limited capacity.
This will see larger indoor religious services, indoor sports and recreational facilities, indoor seated events, and the reopening of casinos, among other businesses.
Roadmap to Reopening:
Furthermore, under Ontario’s Reopening Act, the province will allow for the resumption of multiple outdoor recreational activities, including golf courses, tennis courts, basketball courts, baseball diamonds, and playgrounds this Saturday.
Physical distancing must be in place at outdoor facilities.
“Brighter days are ahead,” said Health Minister Christine Elliott. “We’re almost there.”
The expectation is that the plan will be slowly phased in after the stay-at-home order lifts on June 2.
“I know, above all, you want certainty right now,” Ford said.
“That’s what this framework is designed to do, to provide certainty and predictability. … I know that there might be some people who want to move faster, but we can’t risk it right now.”
There is no indication when schools will resume in-person learning, though Premier Ford did admit that Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams is in favour of reopening them.
Ford revealed that health experts aren’t ready to do that, in contrast with Williams’ opinion.
Ontario’s Science Advisory Table released updated COVID-19 modelling on Thursday that projects while case counts could increase with a return to in-person learning, it would be manageable for students to get back to class.
The modelling pointed to a “good summer” if public health measures stay in place and daily vaccinations continue above the 100,000 daily thresholds.
“We need to do this slowly and carefully,” Health Minister Elliott said.
“There needs to be a plan, which is being developed, which is based on the scientific advice and medical advice that we received from the chief medical officer of health, the public health table, as well as other medical experts.”
The government confirmed that it was looking at “outdoor activities first and indoor activity later.”
Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health said Wednesday that she’s hopeful the process will allow for improvements across the GTHA.
“It has to be practical, it has to be readily communicated and understandable to the large swath of the province’s that lives, works and plays in the GTHA,” says Dr. Eileen de Villa.
In a release, the City of Toronto says they will be ready for outdoor activities to resume this weekend. They say that while tennis courts and golf courses will be open, “team sports cannot be played or practiced.”
The City of Mississauga says they will be ready to go for Saturday, May 22nd as well. In a release, Mayor Bonnie Crombie says “Outdoor activity is important from a mental health perspective and with the warmer weather here, we know residents will be accessing these amenities more.”
Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said Wednesday the province was making headway on a detailed reopening plan, saying that sectors would open up provincewide in an effort to limit people from “region hopping” and travelling to an area with less stringent restrictions.
It was confirmed that the colour-coded framework would be scrapped.
In past versions of Ontario’s colour-coded framework, the province witnessed firsthand what could happen if public health units are marked with different health restrictions. Residents from one area would travel to a neighbouring public health unit with fewer restrictions.
The framework, which split up public health units in different colours based on restrictions, was previously in place across Ontario during the second and third waves of COVID-19.
Ontario’s hospitals have asked Ford for a staged and cautious reopening of the province to avoid a fourth wave of the virus.
In a letter to the premier, the Ontario Hospital Association said several factors should be considered in plans to ease restrictions.
The association said vaccination coverage and supply, disease incidence, and an understanding of infection sources are such factors.
The letter said the reopening plan should be evidence-based and focused on limiting the spread of COVID-19.
Ontario reported 2,400 new COVID-19 cases and 27 deaths on Thursday, after two consecutive days below the 2,000 mark.
With files from The Canadian Press