Premier Doug Ford said Ontario could enter Phase 1 of its reopening plan sooner than the forecast date of June 14 if COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations continue trending down, during a news conference Wednesday.
Health Minister Christine Elliott and Ford’s director of communications Ivana Yelich have both said an earlier reopening could be in the cards, but this was the first time the premier confirmed it.
“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 1. everyone wants to get to Stage 1.”
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According to Ontario’s reopening plan, Stage 1 can start when at least 60% of adults are vaccinated with one dose. The province has already hit that target, but health officials wanted to wait a couple of weeks to allow people to build up antibodies following vaccination.
When Ford announced the reopening plan last month, he forecast June 14 at the earliest date Stage 1 could start.
During that stage, restaurants could reopen their patios, and non-essential retail businesses could welcome a limited number of customers. The limit on outdoor gatherings would also increase to 10 people.
With COVID-19 cases dropping rapidly, Ford now says an earlier reopening could be possible. Ontario’s new daily infections have hovered around 700 for the last two days — the lowest they’ve been since before the second wave.
But Ford said an earlier reopening would need approval from Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. David Williams. The top doctor has previously said schools should be the last to close and first to open — but Ford declared school would not reopen this academic year during his Wednesday announcement.
Williams has not yet said whether he’ll approve an earlier reopening.
Ontario’s reopening plan moves somewhat slower than schedules released by Alberta and BC based on vaccination targets. But health officials in Canada’s most populous province have said they want to move cautiously to avoid triggering a fourth wave.