Coronavirus: Ontario releases gradual reopening plan, though no dates provided

WATCH ABOVE: Premier Doug Ford, government officials discuss the framework for reopening Ontario's economy.

Ontario has released its plan to gradually reopen the province’s economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, though no dates have been provided.

The plan is laid out in a series of stages, which government officials said are necessary to ensure a return to normal is made safely.

“This is a roadmap, it’s not a calendar,” Premier Doug Ford said.

“We’re going to continue working hard and I just encourage everyone please continue following the protocols. We’ve come so far with this fight and we don’t want to give up.”

Even after reopening has been completed, the final stage of the plan includes the “continued practice of physical distancing” and “significant mitigation plans” to limit health risks.

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Concerts and sporting events will be restricted for the “foreseeable future.”

“Until we get a vaccine for this virus, and it’s a little ways off, I don’t think it’s going to be one hundred per cent normal. I don’t think it will ever go back to where it was before because our lives have changed,” Ford said.

“The quicker we can get this flattening of the curve to go south, then we can get back to semi-normal.”

Ford said he thinks when sports eventually resumes, fans won’t attend the events anywhere in North America.

“I think there will empty stadiums at the beginning,” he said.

The final phase of this plan — the “Recover” phase — says the government will work to ensure the safety of the public as Ontario transitions to a “new normal.”

The province has classified its response to COVID-19 in three phases: Protect and Support, which includes the imposition of emergency orders and restrictions; Restart, which is a gradual reopening of the economy; and Recover, which is ensuring safety amid a “new normal.”

Dr. David Williams, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said it appears the province has a “ways to go” before reopening can begin, noting the daily case increases have still recently been well above 400.

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Once the province reaches the “Restart” phase, the plan includes three stages for reopening:

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Stage 1

  • Businesses that can immediately meet or modify operations to meet public health guidance and occupational health and safety, for instance through curbside pick-up or delivery.
  • Open some outdoor spaces like parks.
  • Allow for a greater number of individuals to attend some events, like funerals.
  • Hospitals begin to offer some non-urgent scheduled surgeries and other services.
  • Continued protections for vulnerable populations and practice of physical distancing.

Stage 2

  • Open more workplaces “based on risk assessments.” This could include service industries and additional offices, as well as retail.
  • Open more outdoor spaces and allow some larger public gatherings.
  • Continued protections for vulnerable populations and continued practice of physical distancing.

Stage 3

  • Open all workplaces “responsibly.”
  • Further relaxing restrictions on public gatherings.
  • Continued restrictions on large public gatherings, including concerts and sporting events until the “foreseeable future.”
  • Continued protections for vulnerable populations and continued practice of physical distancing.

During a press conference Monday afternoon, officials didn’t provide many additional details. They said the plan is being further developed on an ongoing basis.

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Officials said health guidance for workplaces that are allowed to reopen will be released “as soon as it’s available.”

The plan states that remote working arrangements should continue when possible as economic activity resumes.

“Each stage will last for approximately two-to-four-week periods to allow for close monitoring of any impacts or potential resurgence of cases,” the document reads.

It says that after each period, the province’s medical officer may advise to reapply restrictions, maintain status quo, or progress to the next stage.

The government has laid out a series of requirements for determining when it is time to ease public health measures. They include:

  • A consistent two-to-four week decrease in the number of new daily cases.
  • A decrease in the rate of cases that cannot be traced to a source.
  • A decrease in the number of new COVID-19 cases in hospitals.

Increased and new ways of testing, quick contact tracing, and maintaining health system capacity are also requirements.

Williams said a slight diversion from the fulfillment of one of those requirements — like a single-day increase in cases, for instance — won’t necessarily throw off a reopening plan.

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He said they are more focused on trends as opposed to strictly meeting each requirement.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Ontario school closures extended to end of May'
Coronavirus outbreak: Ontario school closures extended to end of May

“I don’t want to go out there and start setting dates and we see a spike and then all of a sudden we have to slow things down,” Ford said.

“But hopefully if we see the numbers come down over the next couple weeks, we’ll be able to lighten up the measures from the chief medical officer.”

Ontario NDP leader called the plan “disappointingly vague.” The NDP also said they want to see increased testing in the community, ramped up containment efforts in care homes, personal protective equipment distributed to reopened workplaces, and on-site inspections at those workplaces.

Ontario reported 424 new COVID-19 cases and 57 additional deaths on Monday.

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