Ontarians are getting some reprieve this weekend in the form of lighter restrictions and expanded vaccine eligibility following a spring that saw a stay-at-home order extended twice and the closures of outdoor recreational facilities and amenities.
The changes were announced this week along with a three-step reopening plan in light of COVID-19 cases on the gradual decline and vaccination rates ramping up.
Under the new plan announced by Premier Doug Ford on Thursday, restrictions will be eased gradually through June, July and August based on vaccination rates and key public health and health-care indicators.
Here's what Ontario residents can expect this weekend under the first of the eased public health measures:
Facilities like golf courses, splash pads reopen
As of 12:01 a.m. Saturday, outdoor facilities including golf courses, tennis courts and skate parks are open again, although team sports and classes are still prohibited. Ontario brought in the ban on outdoor recreational facilities in April, when it extended a stay-at-home order and imposed further restrictions amid soaring cases.
Public health experts, including the director of the province's COVID-19 science advisory table, had criticized Ontario's decision to restrict outdoor gatherings and activities, saying the evidence suggested the measures wouldn't do much to cut down on COVID-19 transmission.
Marc Gruel, owner of Piper's Heath Golf Club in Milton, Ont., said business is already booming now that it's reopened. Online reservations are back, but he said his club is almost fully booked for the next month.
"The response has been incredible, since the news release, the phone's been going off the hook," Gruel said.
Golfers like Robert Gauntlett have long argued the sport should have been allowed to resume weeks ago, but he said he's just happy that the courses are open again. He's already booked three consecutive days of tee time.
"It's just frustrating," Gauntlett said.
"Ford was listening to his buddies, whoever his buddies were, and I don't think his buddies were ones who know too much about golf," he said, adding that golf is inherently a safe sport as individuals can physically distance while playing.
Here is a full list of outdoor activities permitted to reopen if they follow certain safety criteria.
Just in time for a relatively warm weekend, Toronto resident Sydney Raeburn-Power enjoyed her Saturday at one of the city's newly reopened splash pads. She said she's hopeful that the reopening of some of these outdoor activities points to the pandemic being on its way out.
"Oh, I'm so thankful...It's so hot in our apartment, we don't have AC and I'm 30 weeks pregnant so this has been such a relief for us," she told CBC News.
"We're having a lot of fun," she said, holding her toddler, August.
Outdoor visits with long-term care residents
Also effective Saturday, outdoor gatherings of up to five people from different households are permitted. Indoor socializing is still off-limits for now.
Meanwhile, residents of Ontario long-term care homes got the green light for outdoor visits — but some say the move doesn't go far enough.
Some families were frustrated that the announcement came so late given the high rates of vaccinations in long-term care. As of Friday, about 96 per cent of long-term care residents in Ontario have been fully immunized with two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a release from the province. Nearly 59 per cent of Ontarians 16 and older have also had at least one dose.
People also expressed dismay at the abrupt reopening, saying not all homes could organize outdoor visits for the long weekend. Dr. Nathan Stall, a geriatrician in Toronto, said it may take some time for homes to implement these visits due to the possibility of low staff or resources given the 24-hour notice.
There are some stipulations that come with the new protocol, including:
A maximum of two general visitors at a time per resident, in addition to essential caregivers.
Children under the age of two do not count toward that maximum.
General visitors need to be screened on arrival and not go beyond entry points at the facility.
Visitors don't need to undergo a rapid antigen test, as their visit will be outside.
Visitors still need to maintain physical distancing and wear masks.
Vaccines now available to people 12 and older
As of 8 a.m. Sunday, people aged 12 and over in Ontario are eligible to book an appointment to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
That age group — made eligible a week ahead of schedule — will be allowed to schedule an appointment through the provincial booking system and call centre as well as at select pharmacies, according to a news release issued by the province's Ministry of Health Friday evening.
Individuals must already be 12 years old as of the date of their booking in order to book online. People who are not 12 years old as of Sunday can schedule an appointment for a later date through the provincial call centre or through public health units that use their own booking system.
The Pfizer-BioNTech shot is the only COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in individuals aged 12 and over.
Although some regions have already started vaccinating youths at pop-ups and larger clinics, the province says it made the schedule change at the request of public health units.