TORONTO — Ontario has announced a three-stage plan to reopen the province, starting with outdoor recreational facilities, as it gradually prepares to ease pandemic restrictions.
From May 22, outdoor leisure facilities – such as golf courses and tennis courts – will be allowed to reopen, the government has said.
The outer limits for social gatherings and organized public events will be extended on Saturday, allowing such amenities to be used by a maximum of five people.
These amenities include training grounds, football and other sports grounds, tennis and basketball courts, and skate parks. No outdoor sports or recreational classes are permitted.
“Today we are seeing increasingly positive trends and key public health indicators,” Premier Doug Ford said. “As a result, we are now in a position to consider 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 start the week of June 14. The Ford government said it would 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 one.
The province will remain at each stage for at least 21 days to monitor impacts on case numbers as restrictions are eased.
The first step
To achieve this milestone, Ontario must wait at least two weeks after 60% of adults have received a dose of the vaccine.
According to Health Minister Christine Elliott, Ontario has reached 58 per cent to date.
“It is possible that we will have reached the stage one access level before June 14,” Elliott said. “We’re just giving that as an approximate date right now.”
The government has said the first stage will 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 swimming pools and wading pools.
To enter this stage, 70% of adults must be vaccinated with one dose and 20% vaccinated with two doses.
The government said this step will allow indoor gatherings of up to five people, as well as outdoor gatherings of 25 people.
Outdoor sports and leagues can resume, as well as personal care services, where a face covering can be worn.
Indoor church services can also resume at 15% capacity.
Essential retail restrictions will be eased, with essential retailers allowed 50% capacity and non-essential retailers 25%.
Outdoor amusement and water parks can also reopen. Outdoor cinemas, performing arts, live music, events and attractions can also be operational again.
The final stage would see life return to normal and will begin when 70-80% of adults in Ontario have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 25% have received both doses.
At this point, the province would finally see the rules around indoor gatherings fall apart.
Larger indoor and outdoor gatherings will be permitted, although the province has not specified any numbers.
This stage also includes a return to indoor sports and recreational fitness, indoor dining, museums, art galleries, libraries and casinos.
Indoor seated events may also resume.
Schools are not reopening to in-person learning
The province said schools across the province will continue to learn remotely until it is determined that students can safely return to class.
Ontario schools have been closed to in-person learning since April 19, 2021, a decision that was made at the height of Ontario’s third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In modeling data presented Thursday, the province’s science table said reopening schools on June 2 would likely lead to a 6-11% increase in the number of new daily cases, which Ford said is concerning.
However, the data also showed that such an increase in COVID-19 infection could be “manageable”.
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, said a number of factors will go into deciding whether or not to keep schools closed until the end of the school year, including immunization rates for special education staff and teachers.
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 while Dr. Williams supports the decision based on current COVID-19 transmission trends, “a few” members of the science table do not.
Additionally, Ford said his government must “deal with teachers” who he says are threatening an injunction to keep schools closed.
Ford referred to an alleged injunction from the teachers’ unions last week, a claim that the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario have since rejected.