Several provinces have released COVID-19 economic reopening plans, but Ontario’s timeline appears to lag noticeably behind others even though certain provinces had higher cases per capita during the third wave.
“I think there is a paralysis, a fear of making mistakes based on the past,” political commentator Sarbjit Kaur told Global News.
Calgary-based political strategist Zain Velji said Ontario Premier Doug Ford “probably paid a greater political consequence” in the second and third waves compared to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.
“You can either go for the win, like Jason Kenney, and say, ‘We’re the first to open in the country, I want that branding, I want that label…’ versus not going for the loss, and that’s what looks like Ford is doing right now,” he said.
“He just doesn’t want to score another own-goal, no unforced errors.”
Alberta’s recently-released reopening plan targets a June 1 date for the province to hit its first phase of loosening restrictions, which includes the opening of hair salons, outdoor dining and permits outdoor social gatherings of up to 10 people.
Its second stage is targeted for mid-June and consists of indoor dining, the opening of indoor gyms and fitness, movie theatres and sports arenas. The third stage would see the elimination of all public health restrictions as early as July.
“When you look at the jump between stage two and three, that is what really triggers me,” Velji said.
“If you look at the timing of stage three, it’s not a coincidence. What’s the biggest thing that happens in early July? The Calgary Stampede, and when you look at the Calgary Stampede and the triggering of summer season, you can really see this as something Kenney may have reverse-engineered.”
In contrast, at around the same time in July, Ontario would likely only just begin allowing indoor gatherings for the first time with a max of five people.
The province would also start opening personal care services, like hair and nail salons, and allow non-essential retail to open up to a 25 per cent capacity.
“The government is probably trying hard to get it right this time,” said Kaur.
“However, it’s either too slow or too fast — it seems like this is now the instance where they really look at the science table and the advice of experts and be guided by that so that we can have an opening that is safe.”
Ontario also has three-week intervals between stages based on hitting certain vaccination thresholds whereas Alberta has two-week breaks dependent on surpassing vaccination and hospitalization targets.
Alberta had the highest number of new COVID-19 cases per capita in the country in early May.
B.C.’s reopening plan has also been called ambitious. With limited indoor gatherings and fitness classes already being allowed, capacities could increase by mid-June at the earliest.
Quebec’s timeline for loosening restrictions begins Friday with the lifting of a curfew and allowing outdoor gatherings — but also allows gyms and indoor dining to reopen a few days later on May 31.
Dr. Peter Juni of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table believes Ontario’s slower reopening is the right approach.
“We need to tread extremely, extremely carefully with loosening restrictions on indoor space, that’s still premature,” said Juni.
“We still have the challenge of variants that are partially escaping vaccines ahead of us.”
He adds the only element he would change from the Ford government’s reopening timeline is to allow more outdoor activities.
“If I were the province, I would probably just stick to just opening outdoor spaces in the beginning of June.”
Meanwhile, the Ontario Ministry of Health has doubled down on the province’s reopening plan. A spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott said officials have consulted with the province’s chief medical officer of health in creating the reopening plan.
“As last week’s modelling shows, waiting to the middle of June to re-open will likely bring cases down to a very low level and a consistent downward trend throughout the summer,” Hilkene said.
“If we see a rapid improvement in key health indicators, the province can consider entering Step 1 earlier. However, based on current trends, the government expects to enter Step 1 of the roadmap the week of June 14.”