Ford to announce reopening plan

By Shawn Jeffords

TORONTO – Premier Doug Ford is set to make an announcement about Ontario’s reopening plan on Thursday afternoon as COVID-19 cases in the province decline.

The health minister has said the plan will be “sector-specific” and involve a staggered approach to reopening some activities.

“We need to do this slowly and carefully,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said Thursday morning.

“There needs to be a plan, which is being developed, which is based on the scientific advice and medical advice that we received from the chief medical officer of health, the public health table, as well as other medical experts.”

The government is looking at resuming “outdoor activities first and indoors activity later,” Elliott said.

Ford is set to make his announcement alongside Elliott and the province’s top doctor at 3 p.m., after the government’s science advisers issue updated COVID-19 projections at 1 p.m.

A stay-at-home order aimed at slowing the spread of the virus in Ontario was extended last week and is currently set to lift June 2.

A spokeswoman for Ford has said the province will not return to the tiered colour-coded restrictions system it used before imposing the stay-at-home order.

New COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Ontario have been trending downward in recent days, although the province saw a slight uptick on Thursday with 2,400 new infections reported. The province also reported 27 more deaths.

The Ministry of Health said 1,320 people are in hospital – 721 are in intensive care and 493 are on a ventilator.

The overall recent decline led the government on Wednesday to permit hospitals to gradually resume non-urgent surgeries and procedures that had been postponed amid an onslaught of infections during the third wave.

Ontario’s hospitals have asked Ford for a staged and cautious reopening of the province to avoid a fourth wave of the virus.

In a letter to the premier, the Ontario Hospital Association said several factors should be considered in plans to ease restrictions, including vaccination coverage and supply, disease incidence, and an understanding of infection sources.

The letter said the reopening plan should be evidence based and focused on limiting the spread of COVID-19.

“We are all looking forward to re-opening the province, but the speed and scope must be carefully considered,” it said.

“Ontarians must have confidence that the goal is to avoid a fourth wave and the subsequent need to reimpose province-wide restrictions, above all else.”

It also said reopening plans must include equitable access for marginalized communities.

It’s not immediately clear if the province will lift restrictions on outdoor activities, but a number of groups including Ontario’s pandemic science advisers have been asking for changes to those rules.

The scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table said last week that outdoor activities like golf, tennis and beach volleyball are low-risk and with some additional instruction, the province could allow people to once again participate in the sports.

Dr. Peter Juni said people should wear masks if physical distancing cannot be maintained and higher-risk activities linked to many sports – like car-pooling or sharing a locker room – should be discouraged.