Golf, tennis, basketball and other outdoor sports are set to reopen across the province on Saturday as part of a three-step plan aimed at gradually allowing for more indoor and outdoor activities to resume by the end of summer.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced details on Thursday as Ontario continues to see signs that point to the devastating third wave of COVID-19 in the province receding.
Under the new plan, restrictions will be eased gradually through June, July and August based on vaccination rates and key public health and health-care indicators.
The current stay-at-home order will remain in place until June 2, with the exception of these newly announced changes to some outdoor activities.
Ford said the changes are the result of current restrictions.
“These measures have worked,” he said. “We are seeing increasingly positive trends in key public health indicators.”
The three phases of the province’s plan are:
- Phase 1: An initial focus on resuming outdoor activities with smaller crowds where the risk of transmission is lower. This includes allowing outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people, outdoor dining with up to four people per table and non-essential retail at 15 per cent capacity.
- Phase 2: Further expanding outdoor activities and resuming limited indoor services with small numbers of people. This includes outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people, outdoor sports and leagues, personal care services as well as indoor religious services, rites or ceremony gatherings at 15 per cent capacity. All indoor gatherings in this phase will require face coverings.
- Phase 3: Expanding access to indoor settings, with restrictions, including where there are large numbers of people and where face coverings can’t always be worn. This includes indoor sports and recreational fitness, indoor dining, museums, art galleries, libraries, casinos and bingo halls, with capacity limits.
You can read full details of the reopening plan in the document at the bottom of this story.
Phase 1 to start week of June 13
The province says it will remain in each step of its plan for at least 21 days to evaluate any impacts on key public health indicators. If at the end of the 21 days, the following vaccination thresholds have been met, along with positive trends in other key public health and health system indicators, then the province will move to the next step:
- Step 1: 60 per cent of adults vaccinated with one dose.
- Step 2: 70 per cent of adults vaccinated with one dose and 20 per cent vaccinated with two doses.
- Step 3: 70 to 80 per cent of adults vaccinated with one dose and 25 per cent vaccinated with two doses.
Currently, the province says 58.5 per cent of Ontarians aged 18 and over have been given first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Health Minister Christine Elliott says Phase 1 of the reopening plan is set to start the week of June 13 if key indicators are met.
Meanwhile, as of May 22 outdoor gatherings of up to five people will be allowed, and the following outdoor activities can reopen if they follow select safety criteria:
- Parks and recreational areas
- Baseball diamonds
- Batting cages
- Soccer, football and sports fields
- Tennis courts
- Basketball courts
- BMX parks
- Skate parks
- Golf courses
- Frisbee golf
- Cycling tracks and bike trails
- Horse riding facilities
- Shooting ranges
- Ice rinks
- Boat and watercraft launches
- Archery ranges
- Lawn game courts
Team sports are still prohibited and individuals making use of these facilities will be required to maintain at least two metres of distancing, with the exception of members from the same household.
“The announcement today from the Ontario government recognizes the progress we have all made in stopping the spread of COVID-19 by following the public health measures,” Mayor John Tory said in a statement.
“It is also a testament to the tremendous work being done to get as many people as possible vaccinated with the available vaccine supply.”
In-person learning to remain closed for now
The plan comes as health officials say the province’s control over the pandemic is improving due to current health measures.
Officials with Ontario’s science advisory table presented their latest COVID-19 modelling data on Thursday, suggesting that maintaining progress with vaccinations and maintaining some public health measures until mid-June can “help ensure a good summer.”
“The public health measures, no matter how taxing and frustrating, have helped stop the spread,” Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the science table, said at Thursday’s news conference.
“If we’re careful and cautious, we can maintain this momentum.”
The group said that reopening schools on June 2 could lead to a six to 11 per cent increase in cases but added that “may be manageable.”
But Ford said given the risk reopening schools poses, they will continue to operate under teacher-led remote learning for now.
“We can’t afford an increase of 11 per cent right now,” Ford said during the news conference.
While Ford says Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams is in favour of reopening schools, there are teachers and other health officials who “have differing opinions.”
“We have to get a consensus from all of the doctors,” Ford said.
The province says data will be assessed on an ongoing basis and medical experts and other health officials will be consulted to determine if it may be safe to resume in-person learning.
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.
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.”