TORONTO – Ontario has announced a three-step plan to reopen the province, starting with outdoor recreational facilities, as it gradually prepares to ease restrictions related to the pandemic.
From May 22, outdoor recreational facilities – like golf courses and tennis courts – will be allowed to reopen, the government said.
The exterior boundaries for organized social gatherings and public events will be expanded on Saturday, allowing these amenities to be used by up to five people.
These facilities include driving ranges, football and other sports fields, tennis and basketball courts, and skate parks. No outdoor sports or recreational courses are allowed.
“Today we are seeing increasingly positive trends and key public health indicators,” said Premier Doug Ford. “As a result, we are now in a position to envision a slow and measured reopening of the province and to work closely with our public health officials.”
The government has said the first stage of the three-tier plan will likely begin the week of June 14. The Ford government has said it will confirm the start date closer to this week.
The stay-at-home order will expire on June 2, but all non-essential businesses will still be forced to remain closed until the province enters Stage 1.
The province will remain at each stop for at least 21 days to monitor the impacts on the number of cases as restrictions are relaxed.
The first step
To take this step, Ontario must wait at least two weeks after 60 percent of adults have received a dose of the vaccine.
According to Health Minister Christine Elliott, Ontario has reached 58 percent so far.
“There is a possibility that we can reach the level of arriving at the first stage before June 14,” said Elliott. “We’re just giving that as a rough date for now.”
The government said the first step would focus on resuming outdoor activities with smaller crowds and where the risk of transmission is lower.
Non-essential retail stores will be allowed to reopen with 15% capacity.
Outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people will be permitted. Outdoor dining, with up to four people per table, will also be allowed to resume.
The first step will also lift restrictions on camps, campgrounds and provincial parks, as well as outdoor pools and water games.
To take this step, 70 percent of adults must be vaccinated with one dose and 20 percent vaccinated with two doses.
The government said the step would allow indoor gatherings for up to five people, as well as outdoor gatherings of 25 people.
Outdoor sports and leagues may resume, as well as personal care services, where a face covering may be worn.
Indoor religious services can also resume at 15% capacity.
Essential retail restrictions will be relaxed, with essential retailers allowed at 50% capacity and 25% non-essential.
Outdoor amusement and water parks may also reopen. Outdoor cinemas, performing arts, live music, events and attractions may also be back up and running.
The final stage would see life return to normal and will begin when 70 to 80 percent of adults in Ontario have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 25 percent have received both doses.
At this point, the province would finally see the rules regarding indoor gatherings crumble.
Larger indoor and outdoor gatherings will be allowed, although the province has not specified any number.
This step also includes a return to indoor sports and recreational fitness, indoor dining, museums, art galleries, libraries and casinos.
Seated indoor events may also resume.
Schools are not reopening to in-person learning
The province said schools in the province will continue to learn remotely until it is determined that students can return to class safely.
Ontario schools have been closed to in-person learning since April 19, 2021, a decision made at the height of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario.
In modeling data presented Thursday, the province’s science table said reopening schools on June 2 would likely result in a 6-11% increase in the number of new daily cases, which Ford said was concerning.
However, the data has also shown that such an increase in COVID-19 infection can be “manageable.”
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr David Williams said a number of factors will come into play in deciding whether or not to keep schools closed until the end of the school year, including vaccination rates for staff and teachers in special education.
He said he would like schools to reopen by June, but said he would consult with Education Minister Stephen Lecce to determine an exact date.
Premier Ford could not confirm whether schools would reopen in June, citing the need for consensus among his public health advisers.
He said that while Dr Williams supports the decision based on current trends in COVID-19 transmission, “a few” members of the science table are not.
In addition, Ford said his government must “deal with the teachers” who he says are threatening an injunction to keep the schools closed.
Ford referred to an alleged injunction by teachers’ unions last week, a claim that the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation have since rejected.