The Government of Ontario is putting one foot in front of the other on its way to reopening the province.
As the province of Ontario gradually prepares to ease pandemic restrictions, Premier Doug Ford, Health Minister Christine Elliott and Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams revealed the long-awaited blueprint at Queen’s Park on May 20.
“We’ve been through so much in the past 15 months,” said Ford. “We’re in a better place right now, and that’s a result of your commitment to keeping each other safe and getting vaccinated.”
As of May 22, outdoor recreational amenities such as golf courses and tennis courts will be allowed to reopen.
Officials have launched their three-step framework to gradually reopen Ontario, with each step lasting a minimum of 21 days.
Ford said based on the trends, the first step will likely begin on the week of June 14. He said they would confirm the start date closer to that week. However, Health Minister Christine Elliott acknowledged it is “possible” it could get underway earlier, given that 58.5 percent of Ontario adults have already received their first dose.
The first stage of the reopening plan would begin approximately two weeks after 60 percent of eligible adults have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
In the first stage, non-essential retail stores will be allowed to reopen at 15 percent capacity, and bars and restaurants will be allowed to offer outdoor dining to tables of no more than four people.
Small outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people will be permitted during the first stage, but indoor gatherings will remain prohibited.
The first stage will also allow day camps, campgrounds and provincial parks to reopen as well as outdoor pools and splash pads.
“The speed at which we get through this reopening will come down to one thing – how quickly we get people vaccinated – and we all have a part to play in that,” said Ford.
Under the plan, the second stage will begin at least 21 days after the first stage gets underway. This stage will be tied to 70 percent of Ontario adults having received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 20 percent having been fully vaccinated.
In the second stage, the province will begin permitting small indoor gatherings of up to five people and larger outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people.
It will allow personal care services, like barbershops and nail salons, to reopen and boost the capacity of non-essential retail stores to 25 percent.
Outdoor sports and leagues can resume, along with personal care services, where a face covering can be worn. Outdoor amusement and water parks can also reopen, as well as outdoor cinemas, performing arts, live music, events and attractions.
The third stage of the reopening plan represents a more full return to “normal life” but won’t occur until at least 70 to 80 percent of adults have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 25 percent have been fully vaccinated.
In this stage, the province would see rules around indoor gatherings finally unravel. Larger indoor and outdoor gatherings will be allowed, though the province did not specify any numbers.
The third and final stage will also allow casinos and bingo halls to reopen as well as cinemas and indoor religious services.
Ford acknowledged some Ontarians would like to see his government move quicker towards restarting the economy. Ford said we could not risk the progress that has been made.
“Too much has been lost to do that right now,” said Ford. “We are not done with this pandemic yet, but we will get through this if we keep working together.”
Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News