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‘We wanted to limit mobility’: Doug Ford defends outdoor amenity closures despite science table advice

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Doug Ford defends closure of outdoor amenities in Ontario' COVID-19: Doug Ford defends closure of outdoor amenities in Ontario
WATCH ABOVE: Doug Ford defends closure of outdoor amenities in Ontario – May 12, 2021

Ontario Premier Doug Ford defended his government’s closure of outdoor amenities during question period at Queen’s Park on Wednesday, despite advice from some of his own advisers who say that they should be open.

In response to a question from the Opposition challenging the closures, Ford said the goal behind ordering outdoor amenities like golf courses and tennis courts to close is limiting mobility in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

“I have a great deal of respect for the health table and the science table,” Ford said.

Read more: Ontario could reopen more outdoor spaces even with stay-at-home order, science table adviser says

“We did receive a couple of messages there to limit mobility, so we wanted to limit mobility.”

Last month, the Ford government ordered the closure of outdoor amenities as it implemented tighter restrictions amid a stay-at-home order and rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

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The science table advising the province has largely criticized the restriction of outdoor activities, saying they will not control COVID-19 and disproportionately harm children and those who don’t have access to their own green space.

Experts say outdoor activities have a lower risk of spreading COVID-19.

Dr. Peter Juni, the scientific director of the advisory table, said that even gatherings outdoors of up to 10 people from two different households could be done safely if physical distancing and masking are adhered to.

Still, Ford said he believes the measures are necessary.

Read more: Ontario outdoor recreational facilities to stay closed until COVID-19 cases drop: minister

“The good news is the numbers are leveling off, so the protocols and the guidelines are working,” Ford said.

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“And Mr. Speaker, I listen to everyone, but I listen to Dr. [David] Williams. He’s the chief medical officer and he believes that people need to limit mobility. They need to stay home.”

Williams said Monday while outdoor activities have “less risk,” precautions still need to be taken including masking or physical distancing if people are not with their own households.

Williams also noted “the more time you’re less mobile, the less likely you are to come in contact with someone” with COVID-19 or possibly spread the virus to others.

He also said people may be more likely to socialize if they engage in outdoor activities, but noted that the government is looking at ways to allow people to use the outdoors more as it is generally safer.

Read more: Ontario government must ‘immediately’ reopen outdoor spaces: Canadian Paediatric Society

When asked by the Opposition if his government would allow for a loosening of restrictions on outdoor activities, Ford didn’t address the question and instead called for stronger border measures.

The Ford government initially backtracked on one outdoor amenity closure: playgrounds.

Ford said Wednesday that a doctor from the science table advised the government that playgrounds should be closed if people are not masking, which Ford said he still believes people are not doing when using the amenities.

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Click to play video: 'Paediatricians urge Ontario to reopen outdoor activities for kids’ mental health' Paediatricians urge Ontario to reopen outdoor activities for kids’ mental health
Paediatricians urge Ontario to reopen outdoor activities for kids’ mental health – May 11, 2021

Despite that, the government reopened playgrounds one day after announcing their closure last month amid backlash.

Ford said people must stay home as much as possible and wear masks when they go out.

The current stay-at-home order is set to expire on May 20, though sources have told Global News that the government is looking at possibly extending it into June.

Click to play video: 'Ontario camps call on the province to reopen outdoor activities this summer' Ontario camps call on the province to reopen outdoor activities this summer
Ontario camps call on the province to reopen outdoor activities this summer – May 12, 2021

Meanwhile, Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner released a statement Wednesday calling on Ford to open outdoor spaces.

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“It’s important for people’s mental and physical health to be able to get outside and be active in the fresh air,” Schreiner said.

“And we know that children and people who lack access to greenspaces or backyards are being disproportionately impacted by these closures. Instead of banning safe outdoor recreation facilities, Ford needs to make high-risk workplaces safer, with measures like 10 paid sick days, mandated PPE and rapid testing, and more workplace inspections.”

— With files from The Canadian Press and Jessica Patton

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