Golf courses to remain closed as Ontario keeps COVID-19 restrictions on outdoor activities
Published Thursday, May 13, 2021 10:02PM EDT
Amid growing calls to reopen outdoor recreational facilities, Premier Doug Ford did not budge Thursday and kept the restrictions in place for two more weeks as he announced the extension of the stay-at-home order.
Public health experts, mayors and the sports community have been urging the Ontario government to allow the resumption of outdoor activities as they have been deemed as low risk for COVID-19 transmission.
The closure of outdoor amenities, including golf courses, basketball and tennis courts, came into effect in mid-April in an effort to stop the surge of third-wave cases in the province. Many criticized the move as evidence had indicated that the outdoors is safer. While the criticism prompted the government to reverse its ban on playgrounds, restrictions on other outdoor facilities remained.
"We must keep doing what we're doing and what's working. We need to do everything in our power to protect this summer for all Ontarians. My goal is to have the most normal July and August possible. Obviously, that won't mean large sporting events or concerts. But if we manage the next few weeks properly. I believe that we can have things in a very good place this summer," Ford said during the announcement.
"That's why I expect that by June 2, so long as we stay the course, we will be able to reopen outdoor recreation. And by then, we will provide more details on our plan to carefully and safely begin to reopen the province in the days and weeks to follow."
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, who's been very vocal about the reopening of outdoor facilities, said he is disappointed that the province didn't relax outdoor restrictions.
"I believe we need to follow the science listen to the physicians. And if you look at what Dr. Peter Juni said at the Ontario science table, it was clear – outdoor amenities are low risk. They are good for physical health. They're important for mental health. The Canadian Paediatric Society even wrote a letter publicly calling on the government to allow outdoor sports because they're concerned about the mental health impact on children," Brown said.
"It's been such a tough year. And I don't believe any closure that is not based on science needs to happen."
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie agreed with Brown and said it's time to allow outdoor activities to continue.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Ontario Medical Association called for the reopening of more outdoor recreational facilities "to improve people's physical and mental health." Speaking to CP24 Thursday, Dr. Samantha Hill, the president of OMA, said she too is disappointed that restrictions on outdoor recreational activities were not reversed.
"I think that we know that there is significant improved safety in activities outside of the house, outside of any closed environment. We know what we can do to make that as safe as possible, including all the measures we're all very accustomed to, including mask-wearing and seeing distances away," Hill said.
"I think that as the weather gets warmer, it's going to be harder and harder to convince Ontarians who have been really doing their best for a year to follow all of the guidelines and follow all of the rules. And so, I'm disappointed we didn't see that get reversed. But I'm hopeful that over the next short period of time, we can have a conversation around that and maybe see some movement on that particular topic."
Golf community: the sport is 'safe'
Many in the golf community are also expressing their disappointment that the restriction was not reversed.
"We've shown how safe the sport is, and also that our protocols in place and they're tested and they're true," said Kevin Thistle, the chief executive officer of PGA Ontario.
He added that many public health experts in the province have come out in support of allowing outdoor activities to resume.
"Listen to medical experts. They say let's go outside for mental health, physical health, etc. It's safe to be outside," Thistle said.
Doug Breen is shocked that the province decided to keep restrictions for two more weeks. Breen, the regional vice-president of GolfNorth, said he believes they have made a strong case the past few days demonstrating that playing golf should be allowed.
"We felt that with all the medical experts being on our side and all the mental health experts being on our side. It's really about letting people get out and letting them get some mental and physical release. And we are just dumbfounded," Breen said.
Ford defended the decision, saying that there is still a need to limit mobility to further flatten the curve and avoid a fourth wave.
"I understand, believe me, the weather's nice. Everyone wants to get out. You know I'd love to get out golfing. I'm a terrible golfer, but I'd love to get out golfing. And right now, you know, the ICUs are still at risk. I think yesterday's number was 805, and that's not good," Ford said.
"As much as we're seeing a decline, which is good, everyone is moving forward, we're getting the vaccines in the people's arms, but we just can't risk it. Just hang in there for... just a couple more weeks."
However, Thistle said their data shows that golfers played within their home community.
Peterborough musician Chad Driscoll channelled his disappointment about not being able to play golf through a song and uploaded it online. Now, his video 'Ontario, Let Me Go (Play some Golf)' has amassed more than 150,000 views on YouTube as of Thursday evening.
Speaking to CP24, Driscoll said he was hopeful Ford would announce that golf courses will be open by the Victoria Day long weekend. But that did not happen.
"(I'm) not feeling good about it," he said.
After the video was released on Sunday, Driscoll shared that he has been receiving positive reviews with many fellow golfers saying that his lyrics resonated with them.
"It's so frustrating for all us golfers that live here when people in Quebec are golfing and people in Alberta are golfing," he said.
"Maybe I have to write another song."