Premier Doug Ford is set to unveil details of the province’s latest reopening plan as Ontario continues to see signs the devastating third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is receding.
Ford’s office said he will speak at a 3 p.m. ET. Provincial officials are also holding a media briefing to present updated modelling forecasts for COVID-19 in Ontario at 1 p.m.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said Ford and his cabinet were still actively working on a phased reopening strategy.
The current provincewide stay-at-home order is in place until June 2, however the government has hinted some restrictions on outdoor activities could be relaxed before then. Jones didn’t say whether that may happen before the coming Victoria Day long weekend.
Officials already confirmed this week that Ontario will not be returning to the colour-coded pandemic framework that imposed varying restrictions on different regions. Jones suggested that under the previous approach, too many people travelled to public health units where restrictions were loosened.
Beyond that, she provided few details of what the impending reopening strategy will look like.
Dr. Peter Jüni, scientific director of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said this morning that he supports a sector by sector reopening to prevent “region hopping.”
In an interview with CBC Radio’s Metro Morning, Jüni said he believes that restrictions on most outdoor activities, not including patio dining, should be lifted before June 2.
“We are in a much better place than we were a few weeks ago,” he said, noting that cases and hospitalizations are dropping.
Jüni added that he is in favour of reopening schools after the stay-at-home order ends.
“A lot of kids are struggling, a lot of families are struggling,” he said. If the province can vaccinate as many education workers and parents of school-aged children as possible by then, opening schools could be done safely, he continued.
“That is possible. That is within reach. We just need to keep doing what we’re doing right now.”
Meanwhile, in a letter to the premier’s office, the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) said that any new approach “should be based on evidence and clear metrics and driven by the continued need to ensure that any ongoing transmission is limited.”
OHA Board Chair Sarah Downey and President Anthony Dale cautioned that current public health measures are working to combat the third wave, “but we’re not out of the woods yet.
“ICU occupancy remains high, and variants of concern pose significant risk,” the letter said. “Maintaining high testing rates and quickly identifying contacts to prevent outbreaks will remain crucial.”
Experts have warned the province’s current level of testing is a problem.
The OHA recommended that “low transmission environments” such as golf courses, tennis courts and playgrounds should open first, before moving to ease restrictions on activities like outdoor dining.
That’s in line with recommendations from the Ontario Medical Association, which recommended opening outdoor ammenities last week.
However, the Ford government voted against an NDP motion this week to reopen outdoor facilities.
The last things to open should be crowded indoor environments like restaurants and gyms, the OHA recommends.
The OHA also called for travel restrictions to remain in place, with an eye on allowing for more domestic travel first, and said that specific vaccination targets should be in place for specific high-risk communities.
As for schools, they should be the “first to open and the last to close, supported by a scientific and evidence-based approach to policy decisions.”
The province hasn’t said whether students will return to in-class learning before the end of the school year.