Premier Doug Ford says that he has asked public health officials to prepare a plan for how the government can ease restrictions in Ontario’s COVID-19 hot spots as early as next weekend.

The initial 28-day period for the modified Stage 2 restrictions in Toronto, Ottawa and Peel will come to an end on Nov. 6 and Ford said during a news conference on Friday afternoon that he has asked officials to get to work on a plan to “ease restrictions” in a way that will allow businesses to safely start to reopen in some regions as soon as Nov. 7.

His comments come one day after the release of new modelling, which suggests that Ontario may have avoided the worst-case scenario when it comes to the spread of COVID-19 but will continue to see extremely high case counts of 800 to 1,200 new infections per day throughout most of November.

“Based on the latest evidence and based on what I am seeing and the modelling I have asked our public health experts to come back next week on a plan to begin to ease restrictions in a way that safely allows businesses to start opening back up after the 28-day period is over,” Ford said. “I want the health officials to come with a plan that allows business to reopen safely because we don’t know how long this virus will be with us.”

The modelling released on Thursday indicated that 14 per cent of known COVID-19 outbreaks in Toronto have been traced back to bars and restaurants since Aug. 1 but in Peel and York that number was significantly lower – three per cent and eight per cent respectively.

The data also suggested that gyms and sports have not made up a major proportion of outbreaks in any of Ontario’s COVID-19 hot spots, accounting for just three per cent of known outbreaks in Toronto, four per cent in Peel and two per cent in York.

Speaking with reporters, Ford said that modified the Stage 2 restrictions introduced in Peel, Toronto and Ottawa on Oct. 10 and in York Region one week later “were never intended to be long-term solutions.”

Rather, he said that they were “short-term difficult measures that were necessary at the time to avoid reaching a point where far more drastic measures may have been needed.”

“When they brought this decision to me we saw a spike of 200 per cent in ICU beds and I truly believe that if we didn’t make this decision we would be having a different conversation today,” he said. “We would be having a conversation like France or Spain (where there are widespread lockdowns) but because we made this decision we are not doing too bad compared to the rest of the world.”

Cases were doubling every 10 to 12 days

When the Ford government introduced the modified Stage 2 restrictions back on Oct 10 cases were doubling every 10 to 12 days.

Since then the growth in new cases has slowed down, though they are still on the rise with Ontario’s seven-day average surpassing 900 for the first time on Friday morning.

“The numbers are still going up but they are going up slower so what it is saying to us is that we can look at perhaps modifying the conditions but that doesn’t mean everyone can loosen up on everything we all need to do,” Ontario’s Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe warned on Friday afternoon.

Ford did not provide any specific details about how restrictions might be loosened during Friday’s news conference, saying that he will leave it up to public health officials.

When asked whether he would reconsider if officials resist rolling back restrictions right now when case counts are still very at record levels, Ford would only say that “anything is possible”

“I am going to rely on the data and the advice from the health team but this can’t go on indefinitely,” he said.

Internal strife

Ford’s announcement on Friday comes after sources in his government told CTV News Toronto that there was anger among some caucus members because they had been specifically asking public health officials for a detailed breakdown of where new cases have been originating from and only received that information when it was made public on Thursday.

The network said that the data has led some to question whether the Ford government had a full picture of where COVID-19 infections were occurring before moving some regions back into a modified version of Stage 2.

“I was livid. Finally the data comes out after the decision. Why not wait until after the data comes out?” Charles Khabouth, who operates a number of restaurants and nightclubs under the Ink Entertainment umbrella, told CP24 on Friday afternoon. “Even at 14 per cent it (the decision) does not make sense. All these people are going to the stores and then they go to the restaurants at the end of the evening. That is just who is getting the data. We keep track of how many times tables get cleaned, who came into work, their temperature. We are the most taken care of environment in the whole country.”