Ontario will move to the next step in its reopening plan on June 30, allowing most personal care services to reopen while also permitting larger outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people and smaller indoor gatherings of up to five people.

The province wasn’t actually supposed to enter Step 2 in its reopening plan until at least 21 days after entering Step 1, which would have been July 2. But in recent days Premier Doug Ford had hinted that his government would consider an earlier reopening based on rapidly improving public health indicators and steadily declining case counts.

The announcement means that a long list of outdoor activities will be able to resume in time for Canada Day, including overnight camps for children and outdoor sports without contact.

It also means that outdoor amusement parks and water parks can reopen and bars and restaurants can begin accommodating tables of six on their patios. Previously they were only permitted to seat up to four people at a time with an exception for members of the same household.

For a full list of what is permitted in each of the three stages of Ontario’s reopening plan follow this link.

“As of today we're announcing that we're going to Step two slightly earlier than originally timeline. So instead of after Canada Day it is before Canada Day. That is to your credit, that is because you turned out for the vaccine,” departing Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said during a briefing on Thursday morning, his final as the province’s top public health official. “We want to say thank you for what you have done but stay the course as we do want to see how we do over the next while as other jurisdictions have seen some upsurges with the variant and we have seen some in some parts of Ontario.”

Ontario has arguably had the most prolonged lockdowns in the entire country with many Toronto businesses, including personal care services, having been shuttered since Nov. 23.

The move to accelerate the beginning of step two, albeit by only a few days, comes as Ontario continues to exceed its vaccination targets. The reopening plan had suggested that the province could only enter Step 2 once 70 per cent of adult residents had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 20 per cent had both doses but as of today 76.7 per cent of the adult population has received at least one dose and 29 per cent have been fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, other public health indicators continue to improve. On Wednesday, there were 305 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units across Ontario, down from a peak of 900 on May 1.

Case counts have also continued to decline and are now down more than 24 per cent since Ontario entered the first step of its reopening plan two weeks ago.

Speaking with reporters, Williams said that while the province has “blown past” its vaccination targets there is a need for caution going forward given the spread of the more infectious Delta variant that was first detected in India and is believed to be behind a surge in cases in the Kitchener-Waterloo area that has prompted officials there to announce that the region will be held back from entering Step 2.

For that reason, he was non-committal on when Ontario might be able to enter the third and final stage of its reopening plan, which will allow indoor businesses like gyms, movie theatres and casinos to reopen.

His comments come on the heels of Ontario Hospital Association President Anthony Dale warning that Step 3 poses “the greatest amount of risk” and shouldn’t be embarked upon until a much higher proportion of the population has been vaccinated.

“While everybody is in a hurry we would rather be taking slow strides forward than trip going out the door if you may,” Williams said. “So be patient, we did move up our time by a few days with Step 2 but let’s experience Step 2. Let’s watch how the immunity keeps building up. I would like to push that 30 per cent (with both doses) to 40 per cent if we could and I would like that one dose to get up to 80 per cent.”

GTHA mayors welcome decision

Ontario’s decision to move to Step two as of 12:01 a.m. on June 30 has been well received by GTHA officials, many of whom had expressed hope that businesses which have now been closed for months would soon be able to reopen.

In a statement issued on Thursday morning, Toronto Mayor John Tory said that moving to Step 2 slightly ahead of schedule is “is absolutely the right thing to do right now” and will ultimately allow “hundreds of business across the city” to begin serving customers again.

“This is good news for these businesses and I encourage all Toronto residents to get a haircut and any other personal service they require from these businesses as soon as possible to help them recover from the pandemic,” he said.

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie also commented on the decision in a message posted to Twitter on Thursday morning, noting that it was “great news for small businesses, particularly personal care service providers.”

Premier Doug Ford also commented on the reopening after receiving his second shot of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday morning.

“This is step two and if we continue getting vaccines into people’s arms we will be sitting down with Dr. (Kieran) Moore, the new chief medical officer of health,” he said, alluding to the wider economic reopening that will accompany Step 3. “But let’s just get vaccinations done and we won’t stop working until that gets done and we get every single company up and running. We are pretty well 90 per cent there but there are a few other ones we have to get up once we go to Step 3.”