'We want to get to stage one:’ Ontario premier floats idea of entering reopening plan ahead of schedule
Published Wednesday, June 2, 2021 11:58AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, June 2, 2021 5:36PM EDT
Premier Doug Ford says that he is “hopeful” that the province can enter the first stage of its reopening plan ahead of schedule but is waiting for the “green light” from Ontario's top public health official.
Ontario has set June 14 as its target date for beginning the first stage of a three-stage reopening plan that is benchmarked to vaccination rates.
But during a press conference to announce that schools will remain closed for in-person learning until the fall, Ford said that his government has “put forward” a request to chief Medical Officer of Health Williams that could see the first stage begin sooner than initially thought.
A spokesperson for the premier’s office later clarified to CP24 that the request is simply to determine whether it would be possible to enter stage one prior to June 14 and doesn’t have a specific date attached to it.
News of the potential change in timeline comes as the province continues to see a decline in COVID-19 case counts.
On Wednesday, the rolling seven-day average of new cases dropped below 1,000 for the first time since early November. It had stood at 1,622 just one week ago.
“As we see the numbers come down and they are dropping rapidly we have put forward to Dr. Williams and the medical team the option of opening up earlier based on a cautious approach,” Ford said. “The framework will not change so what you are allowed to do will not change; that will stay consistent. But we want to get to stage one, everyone wants to get to stage one.”
Once it begins, the first stage of the province’s reopening plan will allow non-essential retailers to open at 15 per cent capacity while permitting bars and restaurants to serve customers on their patios, among other things.
The second stage would then begin at least 21 days later and would represent a broader reopening of the economy that will allow personal service business to operate, as well as outdoor amusement and water parks.
It would also permit outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people and small indoor gatherings of up to five people.
“If we are able to open up a few days earlier based on Dr. Williams advice then we get to go to stage two before July 1. I think that would be fabulous,” Ford said in explaining his thinking. “Again, based on the numbers and based on being cautious. There is no one that wants this province to open up sooner than I do but I want to do it cautiously.”
The Ford government has said that it will not begin the first phase of its reopening plan until two weeks after 60 per cent of Ontario adults have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, a milestone that it will reach by the end of the week.
But there are also other public health indicators that are being considered, including case counts and hospitalization data.
A senior government source told CTV News Toronto earlier on Wednesday that the Ford government is waiting to see whether there was any increase in COVID-19 transmission following the Victoria Day weekend before making any decision on reopening early.
The source also said that the government has not yet reached out to the business sector but would aim to provide businesses with advance notice if it does decide to begin stage one ahead of schedule.
“I think they (the province) have demonstrated a pragmatism and I think they know there are businesses that are hanging on but their fingernails right now that have just made it through this period and that even a week will make a difference to them,” Toronto Mayor John Tory told CP24 on Wednesday morning when asked about the prospect of an earlier reopening. “So yes there are all kinds of discussions going on about the desirability of opening as soon as possible and I think if the thresholds are met they might be at their cabinet meeting when that time comes saying ‘yeah we can do it now’ as opposed to some other date that has already been set.”
It should be noted that Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams has said that he wouldn’t personally support lifting restrictions until daily case counts are in the 550 to 600 range, a threshold which the province has not yet reached but has gotten closer to in recent days.
Nonetheless, there are increasing calls to reopen some businesses now, including from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business which released an open letter on Tuesday urging Ford to revise Ontario’s reopening dates so they are “in line with other provinces.”
Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Issac Bogoch, a member of the province’s vaccine task force, also took to Twitter on Wednesday to question why patios are closed “in the first place,” given what we know about the relatively “negligible” risk of COVID-19 transmission outdoors.
But at Queen’s Park, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath struck a different tone as she pleaded with Ford to “listen to what the experts have to say” and not to rush into lifting restrictions because it is politically popular.
“I think the government is making decisions based on polling and it is irresponsible and shameful frankly,” she said. “They really do need to step up here and not vary from a commitment to listen to what the experts advise. Otherwise we are going to end up exactly where we have ended up now which is another wave Doug Ford walked us into.”
With files from CTV News Toronto's Colin D'Mello