Ontario's top health official open to easing COVID-19 restrictions as sources say Ford is pushing to speed up reopening
Published Thursday, February 10, 2022 9:36AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 10, 2022 4:31PM EST
Ontario’s top public health official says that the peak of this wave of the pandemic “is now behind us” and that he will be making recommendations to the government as soon as next week on what public health measures can be “eased.”
The province is currently slated to lift capacity limits in indoor settings that require proof of vaccination as of Feb. 21 en route to removing all capacity limits by March 14.
However, there has been growing pressure from some local politicians to move up that timeline and on Thursday multiple sources told CTV News Toronto that Premier Doug Ford has personally asked that regulations be drawn up to fast-track the reopening.
“Evidence is showing we're making remarkable improvement in all of the key metrics in Ontario and that forces us to review all public health measures that are in place,” Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore told reporters during a briefing on Thursday afternoon. “None of them are expected to remain in place longer than they need to be so we are reviewing all of them in the coming days and anticipate we'll make recommendations to government as soon as next week.”
The number of people in Ontario hospitals with COVID-19 has been steadily declining for weeks and now stands at 1,897 after peaking at more than 4,000 in mid-January.
There has also been a marked decline in other public health indicators such as positivity rates and case counts.
Officials with the Ontario Science Advisory Table have warned that the reopening of businesses and the increased mobility of residents will likely result in a “rebound” in hospitalization rates but Moore told reporters that he believes Ontario is still in a “very good position to reconsider timelines, as well as all public health measures.”
He said that right now his “gut” is to delay any removal of public health measures in the school setting for the time being to ensure students and staff “feel confident and comfortable in the classroom.
But he suggested that the province could “reconsider” the vaccine passport system that has been in place since September, as well as mandatory mask orders for certain venues.
His comments go against a suggestion from Health Minister Christine Elliott just one day ago that the government had “no current plans” to lift either the proof of vaccination requirement or reconsider mandatory masking orders.
“Given how well Ontario has done in the Omicron wave and how well our health system is recovering I would assume the government wants and will review timelines as well as all public health measures, including when we remove proof of vaccination and when we remove masking in certain venues,” Moore said on Thursday. “I do think masking in some public indoor spaces like transit, subways and buses will be maintained until we really have very low endemicity and that would be cases below 10 per 100,000 on a weekly average.”
Some provinces have announced plans to lift most restrictions
Officials in Alberta and Saskatchewan have both announced plans to aggressively lift most remaining public health restrictions by the end of the month.
In the wake of the decisions being made in those jurisdictions some local politicians have called for a faster reopening, including Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown who has warned of “consequences” from moving too slowly.
That said others have asked the province to stick to a gradual reopening plan.
“While we all want to go back to life as normal as soon as possible I am encouraging the province to continue with a cautious approach,” Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said during a briefing on Thursday morning. “I think we're on the right track and what's more important than opening before on a specific date is opening when the data and the health trends say it is safe to do so. I have advocated that this is the last lockdown on business that we should see during this pandemic and in order to ensure that we shouldn't rush things and put the gains that we have made at risk.”
During a committee meeting at Queen’s Park earlier on Thursday, Government House Leader and Minister of Long-Term Care Paul Calandra said that Ontario is “moving in the right direction to have most of the COVID restrictions removed by no later than the middle of March.”
With files from CTV News Toronto's Colin D'Mello