Premier Doug Ford, Health Minister Christine Elliott and Ontario’s chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams revealed the long-awaited blueprint at Queen’s Park on May 20.
“We’ve been through so much in the past 15 months … We’re in a better place right now and that’s a result of your commitment of keeping each other safe and getting vaccinated,” Ford told reporters Thursday afternoon.
“Please keep following the guidelines closely, stay vigilant, stay safe.”
Before the first phase begins, the Ontario government will permit outdoor recreational amenities (restrictions will be in place) to reopen as of 12:01 a.m. on May 22.
A spokesperson for Premier Doug Ford told Global News the current stay-at-home order, along with its more than two dozen reasons for leaving home, will end on June 2 as previously confirmed. However, the lockdown restrictions imposed on a variety of sectors, including businesses, will remain until the first phase of the reopening plan begins.
Phase one will begin as soon as 60 per cent of all eligible Ontario residents have received their first of two COVID-19 vaccine doses, which is estimated to begin around June 14 based on trends seen in mid-May. As of May 20, a spokesperson confirmed to Global News 58.5 per cent of adults received at least one dose.
However, Elliott said the first phase entry date could change if there’s a change in health indicators or vaccine uptake. The initial phase is primarily focused on resuming outdoor activities where there are small crowds.
Here are the highlights of what’s allowed under the first phase:
– Outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people (a government spokesperson confirmed different households can mix)
– Patios with up to four people at each table
– Retail will begin reopening with a 15-per-cent cap for non-essential businesses, 25 per cent for essential retail
– Outdoor religious ceremonies and rite with capacity limits and two-metre physical distancing requirements
– Outdoor sports and training for up to 10 people allowed
– Day camps, campgrounds, Ontario Parks, horse racing, speedways, outdoor pools, zoos, splash pads allowed
A minimum of three weeks will need to pass and 70 per cent of all eligible Ontario residents will need to have their first COVID-19 vaccine dose and 20 per cent of residents will need to have the required two doses. At that point, here’s what else will be allowed:
– Outdoor gatherings for up to 25 people, indoor gatherings for up to 5 people
– Outdoor patio tables will be able to have up to six people
– Non-essential retail capacity will be increased to 25 per cent
– Personal care settings with face masks worn at all times
– Outdoor meeting and event spaces, amusement parks, water parks, boat tours, county fairs, sports leagues and events, cinemas and arts venues will be allowed to reopen
After another three-week-minimum period, along with up to 80 per cent of residents receiving their first vaccine dose and 25 per cent receiving their second dose, more indoor activities will be allowed where masks can’t always be worn. Here’s what can operate under phase three:
– Large indoor, outdoor gatherings and indoor dining
– Greater expansion of capacity for retail businesses
– Larger indoor religious services, rites and ceremonies
– Indoor meeting, event spaces
– Indoor sports, recreational facilities
– Indoor seated events, attractions, cultural amenities
– Casinos and bingo halls
– Other outdoor, phase two activities will be allowed to operate indoors
At the end of each phase, health system indicators will be reviewed before moving to the next step. Ford was asked about planning if there is a surge in cases, hospitalizations and/or deaths, but didn’t immediately elaborate on if there’s a plan in place. He encouraged everyone eligible to get a vaccine to do so.
When it comes to schools, officials opted to keep students at home for remote learning. Ford said there wasn’t consensus among scientific advisors about reopening schools.
After the announcement about schools, a group of pediatric health-care providers and advisory groups, including the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, to call on the government to immediately reopen schools.
The groups said with cases falling, it was time to recognize the detrimental impact the pandemic has had on children and allow them to return to the classroom.
“Children and youth have suffered immeasurably over the course of the pandemic,” they said.
“It is time to prioritize their health and well-being.”
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the lack of a plan for schools “shocking.”
“It’s shameful that the Doug Ford has left schools and kids out of the mix here,” she said, adding Ford “put them to the bottom of the list.”
Meanwhile, the president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said his group was “deeply disappointed” there wasn’t an immediate reopening for some businesses.
“Businesses deserve to know exactly when it’s their time to finally reopen to customers and plan for rehiring employees, cleaning and sanitizing the premises, acquiring inventory, and other reopening activities,” Dan Kelly said.
The new guidelines were released a day after the Ontario Hospital Association wrote to Premier Doug Ford and pushed the government to ensure low-transmission environments (such as uncrowded parks, golf courses, playgrounds and tennis courts) are opened first, followed by crowded outdoor environments (patio dining) and uncrowded, well-ventilated indoor environments (such as retail), and ending with crowded indoor environments (such as restaurants and gyms).
“As the third wave slowly eases, we are all looking forward to re-opening the province, but the speed and scope must be carefully considered. As you said last week, we simply can’t rush to reopen. Ontarians must have confidence that the goal is to avoid a fourth wave and the subsequent need to reimpose provincewide restrictions, above all else.”
The association also pushed for maintaining current travel restrictions, setting vaccine targets for “specific, high-risk communities” and keeping a close eye on hospital and health system capacity (such as using indicators like a decline in total hospitalizations, deaths and new hospitalizations per 100,000 residents, ICU admissions etc.).
— With files from The Canadian Press