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UPDATE: Province backtracks on playground closures

Premier Doug Ford said Saturday his government would revise health orders announced less than 24 hours earlier.
Playgrounds COVID restrictions sign City of Thunder Bay
Playgrounds will remain open after the provincial government backtracked Saturday on plans to close them announced the previous day. (Ian Kaufman,

THUNDER BAY – Premier Doug Ford has backtracked on at least one provision of new COVID-19 measures announced Friday, saying playgrounds will be allowed to remain open.

The provincial government had sparked criticism from public health experts and online fury from parents after announcing most outdoor recreation amenities, including playgrounds, soccer fields, and basketball courts, would be ordered closed.

The announcement was one part of new provincial measures announced Friday in the face of dire COVID-19 projections showing Ontario could see up to 10,000 cases a day by the end of May if only moderate public health restrictions were left in place.

On Saturday afternoon, less than 24 hours later, Ford said on social media the government would amend the orders to exempt playgrounds. It was not initially clear if that would apply to other outdoor recreation amenities as well.

"Ontario's enhanced restrictions were always intended to stop large gatherings where spread can happen," he wrote on Twitter.

New regulations prohibiting people from gathering outdoors with members of other households will remain in place, Ford said. Those rules include an exception for those living alone.

At least one Ontario mayor had signalled his intention Saturday to challenge the rules around playgrounds and open spaces.

"I will be consulting City Council & our solicitor on whether we can legally decline a provincial order," said Brampton mayor Patrick Brown, a former Ontario PC leader, on Twitter. "The medical advice has been clear that outdoor recreation should stay open.

The City of Thunder Bay said earlier Saturday it would comply with the new measures, potentially putting up closed signs on local playgrounds.

In a statement issued Saturday afternoon, the City said it had received details on the new restrictions from the province that morning, and was still in the process of reviewing them.

However, city manager Norm Gale confirmed the City plans to fully implement the new provincial rules.

“We have just received the official regulations from the Ontario Government this morning, and are reviewing them in detail to identify any changes to City services. We will comply with all orders from the provincial government,” he said. “More specific details on the impact to city services will be available soon.”

It’s uncertain exactly how the new rules will impact city services beyond the closure of outdoor recreational amenities.

Mayor Bill Mauro was not available for comment Saturday.

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