'All of this is dependent on the numbers,' Ford cautions as he announces Stage 1 of reopening to begin May 19

‘All of this is dependent on the numbers,’ Ford cautions as he announces Stage 1 of reopening to begin May 19

Premier Doug Ford's announcement that Ontario would enter the first stage of reopening the economy on May 19 came with a caveat — that the loosening of restrictions will depend on the numbers.

The businesses and seasonal activities that will be allowed to reopen next week include retail stores with street entrances, car dealerships and outdoor sports fields. The government will also permit the resumption of scheduled surgeries, all construction projects and individual, but spectator-free, sporting events like horse-racing.

"Today’s news is good news; our efforts are paying off," said Ford during a press conference on Thursday, a day that the province reported the lowest daily increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks — 258 cases or a 1.2-per-cent increase. "We have a long way to go, we have a long road to recovery, but let's take some time today and be grateful for how far we all have come."

"We’re getting thousands of people back to work, we’ve laid a solid foundation for our economic reopening and recovery," Ford continued before adding a cautionary note. "We need to keep in mind that all of this is dependent on the numbers. The truth is we can’t fully predict where things will go, so we need to be ready to react if we see a sudden increase in cases. We cannot let our guard down now. We must watch the trends like a hawk."

He added that when the time comes, "businesses should open only if they are ready."

The premier said starting Saturday, golf courses, marinas, private parks, campgrounds and businesses that board animals like stables would be allowed to open. Ford said last week he was getting lobbied regularly by his friends who golf and that they were "giving me every single reason why they should be able to go out there."

The reopening of these sites on the weekend would be followed by a further easing of restrictions on May 19 to allow for several other activities to occur:

  • retail stores that aren't in malls and have street entrances, provided proper physical distancing can occur — this could include arranging appointments with customers or letting only a certain number of people into a store at a time. Fitting rooms with doors will be permitted, but use should be restricted to every other room.
  • individual sports like tennis, track and field, horse-riding, rod and gun clubs (including indoor clubs and golf driving ranges). There would be limited access, so no change rooms or clubhouses.
  • individual sporting competitions that are spectator-free including outdoor water sports, racquet sports like tennis, ping pong and badminton but not squash, animal sports like horse-racing or dog racing, track and field, figure skating, fencing, rock climbing and gymnastics.
  • veterinarians along with pet grooming and training services
  • household services, both indoor and outdoor, such as cleaning, cooking, babysitting, maintenance (general repairs, painting, pool cleaning)
  • all construction projects
  • health services such as scheduled surgeries and procedures including non-emergency diagnostic imagine, in-person counselling, in-person services at children's treatment centres and mental health and other supports like refugee services.
  • libraries for pick-up or delivery services
  • recreational activities at marinas (pools will stay closed)
  • dealers of cars, trucks, motorcycles, recreational vehicles, boats, motorized bicycles, golf carts, scooters, snowmobiles, ATVs (this is a change from only allowing appointments)
  • media operations that involve equipment and can't be done remotely including sound recording, film and television post-production and animation studios, publishing and interactive digital media like video game design.
  • emissions inspection facilities

Health Minister Christine Elliott noted that the resumption of scheduled surgeries and procedures would vary across the province and would be dependent on hospitals meeting certain criteria outlined by the province last week. So while such procedures might not begin at all hospitals on May 19, the planning process has already started, said Elliott. Before hospitals can begin non-urgent surgeries and procedures, a directive from Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams that initially asked health-care providers to ramp these down would need to be amended or repealed.

Elliott also said that while the government "has the confidence to start planning the gradual reopening" of the province, Ontarians should still avoid contact with people outside of their households and maintaining two metres of distance from others.

The government didn't outline any specifics for the next two stages of reopening or announce any change to the rule to limit gatherings to no more than five people, but Finance Minister Rod Phillips did say Ontarians could expect to hear updates related to social gatherings, child care and education "in the coming days." Education Minister Stephen Lecce said yesterday that the government would announce by next week the plan for the remainder of the school year.

"As we continue to make progress, we’ll monitor the public health measure necessary to move onto the next stage and we’ll announce more details on Stage 2 and 3 based on best practices and lessons learned when the time is right," Phillips said.

The government encouraged businesses to review the already released sector-specific reopening guidelines, with Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade Vic Fedeli also announcing the launch of a personal protective equipment directory for businesses to use to get supplies for their employees.

Even when businesses get the green light, however, the government said they should consider things like the risk of COVID-19 spreading through the workplace, the ability to work remotely and changing practices to ensure physical distancing, better hygiene and cleaning and use of personal protective equipment.

Ford said he couldn't say how long Stage 1 would last and when the province would move into the next stage.

"We’ll take as long as it takes to get the numbers down consistently over a couple week period," he said.

As for other services like hair salons and massage or chiropractic therapy, Ford said "we’re going to have to hold off on that for a little while" and that these services could be pushed to the second or third stage of reopening.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government needs to boost testing and tracing alongside its reopening of the economy.

“Everyone is eager to start easing restrictions, but Doug Ford needs to dramatically ramp up testing and contact tracing to make it safer for everyone when we do that,” Horwath said in a statement. “No one wants to see Ontario take one step forward and two steps back. We don’t want to see more people getting sick, and freshly re-opened businesses having to close again, because of outbreaks — and the solution to that is to test, test, test, and have the capacity to trace every positive case.”

There was some confusion earlier this week about what today's announcement would include, with Ford saying on Tuesday that "we’ve hit stage one on Thursday so we’ll have more details as that rolls around."

His office later clarified that the government would be announcing that Ontario had reached Stage 1, "but rather providing more details about Stage 1."

The past week has seen a slight easing of public health restrictions, with the government allowing garden centres, hardware stores and safety supply shops to open and curbside pickup for retail stores with street entrances. Provincial parks and conservation reserves have also started reopening for walking, hiking, biking and birdwatching. The government has also recently expanded the list of essential construction projects allowed to take place to include colleges, universities, child care centres and schools.

The province first released its three-stage plan for reopening the province's economy on April 27. The plan didn't contain specific dates or priority sectors, with Ford emphasizing that it was a "roadmap, it's not a calendar."

The three stages were part of the second "restart" phase of the province's COVID-19 response, with Dr. Williams noting earlier this week that Ontario was still in the first "protect and support" phase where non-essential workplaces, restaurants and bars and recreational areas are closed.

Stage 2 would see more workplaces opening up including possibly some service industries and some larger public gatherings. Stage 3 would involve opening all workplaces and further relaxing some restrictions on public gatherings. The government's plan, however, noted that concerts and sporting events would still be restricted "for the foreseeable future."

Photo Credit: Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star

Sneh Duggal

Reporter, Queen's Park Briefing

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