Premier Doug Ford said it’s time to “move on” as Ontario announced Wednesday that its mask mandate would be lifted for most public settings on March 21.
Ford made the comments at a press conference shortly before Ontario chief medical officer Dr. Kieran Moore officially announced the move.
“We’re going to move forward cautiously and if someone wants to keep them on, God bless ’em. You know, good for them,” Ford said.
“But I know a lot of people don’t want to keep them on and again we aren’t leading the way in this,” he added, noting other jurisdictions have lifted mask mandates.
“If you want to keep your mask on, keep it on. If you want to take it off, take it off. But we have to move forward from this. Like people are exhausted, you know. And the poor kids in those classrooms, too. We’ve got to move on.”
The province announced Wednesday that beginning March 21, the mask mandate will be lifted in most places, including schools.
It will remain place is some settings including public transit, long-term care, health-care settings, among other facilities.
On April 27, all masking requirements will be lifted.
The decision has sparked concern from some, including the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario which called the move “premature.”
A coalition of children’s hospitals, including SickKids in Toronto and CHEO in Ottawa, also recently urged the government to keep mask requirements for schools for now.
“Many children remain unvaccinated. Young children are still ineligible,” the hospitals said in a statement last week.
“The evidence is clear: Masking helps prevent transmission not only at school, but prevents kids from then spreading COVID-19 at home to unvaccinated siblings, family or community members.”
Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca also spoke out against the decision Wednesday.
“Today, despite the clear and unequivocal advice of the province’s science table, and against the direct advice of the experts at SickKids, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, the Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences, and McMaster Children’s Hospital, Doug Ford decided to remove all mask requirements in schools,” he said.
“Given Ontario’s reopening and March Break, it makes sense to wait at least two weeks after the end of the break to review those indicators and make a decision for Ontario schools.”
Del Duca said while he supports dropping the mandate outside of “higher-risk, essential public services and areas” later this month, he does not support the decision for schools, noting his concerns around the spread of COVID in the facilities and the high number of children who are not fully vaccinated.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath also said masking should remain in place “few more weeks.”
Ford said Wednesday that he is following Moore’s advice.
The premier was also asked about reports that the province’s science table was not consulted.
“Let me be very clear: there’s no pressure on Dr. Moore. I follow the advice and the recommendations of the chief medical officer of Ontario, he consults with the science table,” Ford said.
“We’re going to take his advice on the timeframe moving forward with the masks.”
Ford said he has been “super cautious” throughout the pandemic.
“As a matter of fact, I’ve been probably accused of being the most cautious leader in North America when it comes to this pandemic. But I want to be cautious. And we’re going to take those recommendations and move forward with the advice of Dr. Moore which has done an incredible job for the people of Ontario,” Ford said.
Ford said if there is another COVID-19 wave, “we’re in much better shape than we were prior to this pandemic.”
The premier also said that if a municipality wants to keep a mask mandate in place “they’re going to have to go through Dr. Moore.”
— With files from The Canadian Press