TORONTO, Ont. - Those looking to get outside this long weekend will have a few more options, as the province is easing restrictions on some outdoor activities and outlines its new roadmap for reopening the province.
As of Saturday, golf courses, tennis courts, basketball courts, skate parks, soccer fields, and other outdoor recreation spaces will be permitted to reopen with some limitations, such as maintaining physical distancing, and limits on outdoor gathering will be increased to five people.
“I know there are people who want to move faster, but we can’t risk it,” Premier Doug Ford said during a media briefing from Queen’s Park on Thursday.
Ontario has been under a province-wide stay-at-home order since April 7 due to a devastating third wave of COVID-19 that resulted in record high hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions.
“I know these measures came with a great price,” Ford said. “But I can say these measures have worked. Collectively as Ontarians we have saved thousands of lives and that is thanks to your sacrifices. Today we are seeing increasing positive trends. We are not in a position to look at a slow and measured approach to reopen.”
The province will use a three-stage approach to reopening the economy throughout the summer and each stage will be based on vaccination rates and COVID-19 infection rates.
“Any decision will be made with the utmost caution,” said Minister of Health Christine Elliott. “The province will remain in each step for at least 21 days to allow us to evaluate any impacts.”
The first stage will require at least 60 per cent of adults to be vaccinated with one dose and will allow for outdoor gatherings of 10 people, outdoor dining with up to four people at a table, non-essential retail capacity at 15 per cent, outdoor sports and training of up to 10 people, day camps, reopening of campsites and campgrounds, Ontario Parks, as well as outdoor pools and splash pads.
Elliott said she anticipates the province will be able to enter the first stage the week of June 14.
"Because there are a wide variety of metrics involved in addition to the vaccination rates, it is possible that we could reach the level of getting to stage one before June 14, but we are giving that as an approximate date right now," she said.
Stage two will require 70 per cent of the population with at least one dose and 20 per cent with two doses. Outdoor gathering limits will be increased to 25 and small indoor gatherings of up to five people.
Non-essential retail capacity will expand to 25 per cent and personal care services where a face covering can be worn will be permitted to reopen.
The final stage requires 70 to 80 per cent of the population to have received at least one dose of the vaccine and will allow for larger indoor and outdoor gatherings, indoor dining and other indoor events.
“While now is not yet the moment to reopen the province, we are releasing our roadmap to reopening,” Elliott said. “It provides a clear path forward on what can be carefully and safely reopened and when.”
“The speed at which we get through this reopening will come down to one thing: how quickly we get people vaccinated and we all have a part to play in that,” Ford said.
“That daily vaccination rate is the single biggest factor in our fight against COVID right now. It’s how we can look forward to a great summer. We know too well how fast the situation can change when the variants are in play.”
When asked about the possibility of reopening schools, Ford once again said there needs to be consensus, which he said is not occurring. He also said he is concerned that modelling has shown that if schools reopen there is the potential for an 11 per cent increase in cases.
"We have to get a consensus from all the doctors, the chief medical officer, we know his point his view, we have to get consensus on the science table," Ford said. "A few members came out saying they are not in favour. And we have to deal with teachers who threatened to put an injunction in that they threatened in February or March."
Local teacher union representatives said they are not aware of any potential injunctions to be put in place if schools were to reopen.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath was critical of the government's choice to not include schools and students in its reopening plan.
"Any re-opening news is good news, but children and families are paying an especially high price for Doug Ford’s lockdown, and he’s put no relief in sight. They are exhausted and frustrated from trying to learn online," she said in a statement. "Their mental health and well-being are being eroded by the day. Yet Doug Ford is leaving children, families and schools hanging. He’s putting them at the back of the line, and the bottom of the priority list."
"Schools should be the top priority for re-opening. And we can make schools safe by investing in small class sizes, windows that open, better ventilation and upgrades like touchless faucets. Sadly, once again, Doug Ford is ignoring the experts, because he doesn’t want to spend the money on our kids’ education."