TORONTO -- Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday his government has a plan to deal a second wave of COVID-19 this fall, a pledge that comes as Ontario's hospitals warn the surge may come as flu season strikes.
Ford said he has been consulting with provincial health officials about the plan, but offered no details about how or when it will be announced.
The premier made the comments during a visit to a Cambridge, Ont., business that is manufacturing personal protective equipment, stressing that the province's health-care system is better off now than it was in the early stages of the pandemic.
"We have a plan that will be rolling out and we're prepared," he said. "We are 100 times better, more prepared now in health care and PPEs ... but we can never, ever, ever, let our guard down."
The statement came a day after Ford announced most of the province will reopen further this Friday, progressing to Stage 3 of Ontario's economic recovery plan.
All of the regions cleared to enter the next phase will see significant changes in everything from public gathering limits to the range of services available.
But the CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association said while the province's economic recovery is vital, so too will be preparing for a possible second wave of patients.
"By its very nature, moving to Stage 3 introduces heightened risk of renewed spread," Anthony Dale said in a statement. "As a result, it is essential that Ontario's health-care system be ready for further outbreaks and a second wave of the pandemic. Nothing should be taken for granted."
Dale said the province must develop a contingency plan to ensure regional service and staffing plans are in place ahead of the surge.
Resources must also be provided to health-care services outside of hospitals, Dale said, with the OHA calling for a "widespread expansion" of home care, community services and virtual care.
"A potential second wave of COVID-19 will likely collide with flu season, adding significant pressure to a sector already experiencing unprecedented demands and conditions," he said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she is concerned the government has no plan to deal with a second wave this fall and urged the Ford to begin work now in the health and long-term care sectors.
"The second wave is coming, it's just a matter of when," she said. "And if it's exacerbated by the flu season, then we have some real worries."
Horwath also criticized Ford for launching what she called a "campaign-style" tour of the province on Tuesday. The premier's office said the schedule will see him visit seven different regions and travel more than 5,000 kilometres over the next eight weeks.
The government should be focused on developing a plan to return children to school safely this fall instead of trying to bolster Ford's chances of re-election, Horwath said.
But Ford said the tour will be his opportunity to hear directly from people across Ontario about their needs as the province moves to Stage 3.
He also defended his the decision to give bars permission to reopen in many parts of the province later this week, while critics have said his government's approach to schools has not received the same priority.
The premier said he believes bars and their patrons will be responsible and practise physical distancing as they reopen.
"That's the last thing I'm worried about, is opening the bars," he said. "What I'm concerned about is the restaurants and the bars, keeping them alive, keeping them afloat."
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said that seven weeks out from the start of the school year, parents and students need a plan to return to class.
"All signs point to a government that is not ready and that will pass the burden onto parents, teachers and local trustees to figure it out at the last minute," Schreiner said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Ontario reported 111 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, along with one new death due to the novel coronavirus.
The total number of cases now stands at 36,950, which includes 32,785 marked as resolved and 2,723 deaths. The province also reported 122 newly resolved cases on Tuesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 14, 2020.