Premier Doug Ford says Ontario could enter the first step of the provincial COVID-19 reopening plan earlier than the original goal, but insisted that it will ultimately come down to a recommendation from the chief medical officer of health.
“I’m so hopeful that as things are going, we may be able to enter Step 1 safely earlier than June 14,” Ford told reporters at Queen’s Park Wednesday afternoon.
“As we see the numbers come down, and they’re dropping rapidly, we put forward to Dr. (David) Williams and the medical team that option of opening up earlier based on a cautious approach, based on the numbers coming down.
“There’s no one out there that wants this province to open up sooner than I do, but I want to do it cautiously and I want to do it through the guidelines and through Dr. Williams.”
Health Minister Christine Elliott reiterated her past messaging on the reopening plan, saying again a number of factors will need to be taken into consideration and that it falls to Williams and his team to deem the situation “safe.”
“We have to look at the number of new cases coming into our hospitals, the number of people in intensive care, the ‘R factor’ — quickly the numbers are reproducing and infecting new people,” Elliott explained.
She added ministry staff and provincial doctors are reviewing COVID-19 data daily reviewing numbers daily.
Just hours before Ford and Elliott spoke during an announcement confirming in-person learning wouldn’t resume in Ontario until September, a provincewide stay-at-home order expired. However, the so-called emergency brake (similar to the grey lockdown restrictions under Ontario’s old colour-coded COVID-19 response framework) imposed on a variety of sectors, including businesses, will remain in place until the province moves into the first phase of the reopening plan.
It was in mid-May when the Ontario government revealed its three-step roadmap for gradually reopening the entire province.
Phase one (primarily allowing retails and reopening more outdoor settings with restrictions) will begin as soon as 60 per cent of all eligible Ontario residents have received their first COVID-19 vaccine doses. The vaccines currently used in Ontario ultimately require two doses.
As of May 31, Health Minister Christine Elliott said around 67 per cent of Ontario residents have received their first dose. However, she said hospitalizations, the number of people in ICUs and public health capacity will all be factored in the decision-making process later in June.
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 before moving into phase two (reopening more indoor settings on a smaller basis and expanding outdoor settings).
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 to reopen in phase three where masks can’t always be worn.
At the end of each phase, health system indicators will be reviewed before moving to the next step. Officials haven’t publicly indicated what will happen if there is a surge in cases, hospitalizations and/or deaths, but all have encouraged everyone eligible to get a vaccine to do so.