Ontario to enter Step 2 of reopening plan on June 30, two days ahead of schedule

By Holly McKenzie-Sutter

TORONTO – Ontario will move into the second stage of its reopening plan next Wednesday, a few days ahead of schedule.

That means hair salons and similar facilities can reopen with mask requirements and capacity rules, and limits on gatherings will be rolled back further.

Outdoor attractions like water parks can reopen, outdoor performances and team sports can resume and small indoor gatherings of up to five people are permitted.

Groups of up to 25 people will be allowed to gather outdoors and capacity limits for retail shopping will expand.

The province announced the change on Thursday. The province’s top doctor said vaccinations and health indicators have improved enough to speed up the schedule.

“We want to say thank you for what you have done,” Dr. David Williams said on Thursday. “We are making steady progress.”

The changes will take effect at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday.

That stage of the plan was set to take effect on July 2 but COVID-19 vaccination targets have already been surpassed. Other health indicators have also improved since strict measures took effect in April to control the third wave of COVID-19.

Opposition politicians called for more support for small businesses on Thursday to help them stay afloat after a long period of closures.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called for another round of grants that would be open to more businesses.

“Getting workers back at work is the foundation of the recovery. But without more help from the government, businesses owners are worried that they might not make it to their reopening day or much beyond that,” Horwath said in a statement.

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner echoed the call for expanded access to grants, and for more rapid COVID-19 tests to be made available to businesses.

“In order for Ontario’s economy to recover from the pandemic, we need our small businesses to have a fighting chance. And that means stepping up supports for them now before it’s too late,” Schreiner said.

With more than 76 per cent of adults vaccinated with one dose, and 29 per cent fully vaccinated, Ontario has already met targets to enter the third step of its reopening plan, which will see indoor activities expand further.

But the province said it’s sticking with its plan of remaining in Step 2 for “approximately 21 days” so vaccines can take full effect and other health indicators can be monitored.

“We’d rather be taking slow strides forward, than trip going out the door,” Williams said at his final pandemic news conference as Ontario’s chief medical officer of the health on Thursday.

“You’ve earned it, you’ve done it, but let’s keep it. ”

He was joined at Thursday’s news conference by his successor, Dr. Kieran Moore, who will officially take over the job on June 26.

Moore, formerly the top doctor for the Kingston, Ont., area said he agreed with taking a cautious approach, especially with the more infections Delta variant spreading in the province.

People with one vaccine dose are less protected against that variant that now makes up about half of cases in the province, Moore said.

The variant’s spread has slowed the pace of reopening in the northeastern Porcupine health unit, which will enter Step 1 on Friday weeks after the rest of the province, and in Waterloo Region, which announced on Thursday it would delay moving into Step 2, possibly until mid-July.

Waterloo Region’s top doctor said Thursday the delay is meant to “avoid having to take a step back” and to allow residents have more time to be vaccinated.

“This approach gives us the best chance to hold onto the gains we have made,” Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said in a statement.

Moore said the province is also watching the variant situation in health units covering Grey Bruce and North Bay. He further efforts are being made to get first doses to more than 80 per cent of adults, a statistic he said is within reach based on modelling.

“It’s looking very promising,” he said. “Once we achieve that … the incidence of even Delta will be going down in our communities and we’ll be able to open up more fully and more safely very quickly.”