Premier Doug Ford appeared in front of cameras for the first time in almost two weeks to announce that restrictions on outdoor recreation facilities will be lifted on June 2, but he then blamed snow birds, the Federal government, and people with private jets for the present predicament. Ford explained that Ontario has to say the course to have the “most normal July and August as possible,” but there are still conditions.
At a noon-hour announcement at Queen’s Park, the Premier along with the Minister of Heath and Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health announced that the emergency break pulled on April 3 will remain in place until at least June 2. At this point, if the numbers indicated continued positive progress, the Government on Ontario will consider the re-opening of outdoor rec facilities.
“My goal is to have the most normal July and August as possible. Obviously, that won’t mean large sporting events or concerts, but if we manage the next few weeks properly, I believe that we can have things in a very good place this summer,” Ford explained. “To do so, we need to keep driving cases down and easing the pressure on our hospitals. We need to maintain the stay at home order and all public health measures until at least June 2.”
Why wait? According to Dr. David Williams the province needs more time to stabilize case counts, and the best way to do that is to ensure that people stay at home a while longer to ensure case counts don’t start going up again.
“When you open up a lot of facilities, it’s not sometimes the activity, it’s the congregate activity that’s before, after and during some sports events, especially teams who have a lot of close contact,” Williams said. “These are very important times, we’re in this transition period, and we hope that by the second of June we will be in a much better position if we continue to be steadfast and follow what we’re doing now.”
Although the new daily case count was up 19 per cent compared to Wednesday, there were still less than 3,000 new cases again on Thursday. The exact number was 2,759, which still sounds like a lot, but the 7-day moving rate of confirmed cases has fallen from all all-time high of 208.2 per 100,000 from April 4-10 to 103.8 per 100,000 last week. It’s an overwhelmingly positive development, but the Minister of Health reminded Ontarians that there’s still a long way to go.
“First, we do need to see an increase in the vaccination rate and we are well on track to vaccinate 65 per cent of Ontarians over age 18 by the end of May,” Christine Elliott said. “We also need to see lower numbers in the cases, lower numbers of hospitalizations, and lower numbers of people in our intensive care units as well. We need to do this to make sure that our health system can deal with the capacity.”
More than platitudes about staying the course and having a stiff upper lip, the Premier also took shots at the Federal government and Justin Trudeau for inaction on the real issue of the third wave of the pandemic: open borders.
“You know you look at the borders and we have two sets of rules,” Ford explained. “In one you fly into Pearson, and we know one-third aren’t staying in quarantine they’re just walking away, and on the other hand are the land borders. We see hundreds of taxis, and Ubers going down there, and picking people up. Buffalo airport is the second largest airport for Ontario now, and that that’s just wrong.”
Ford’s demand for action on the border has been a tit-for-tat intergovernmental argument for the last several weeks. At a press conference last week, Trudeau said that he was willing to look at options with the Ontario government for controlling the borders, but they hadn’t seen any specific requests, only “personal attacks” from the Ontario PC party.
“I recognize … the pressures that are on all Ontarians and that leaders are under a certain amount of stress right now, and some will choose to point fingers and lay blame and even engage in personal attacks,” Trudeau said at a press conference on May 6. “That’s not my approach and that’s not, quite frankly, what Ontarians need.”
There is some confusion over the Premier’s instance on making the border an issue. Later at the press conference he said that “90 per cent of people with COVID have come in through through the airports or land borders,” but Public Health Ontario lists the number of confirmed cases directly linked to travel at 53 from Sunday to Tuesday this week. Last week, there 267 total cases directly linked to travel. Some opposition leaders felt that the Premier was making excuses.
“Ford needs to stop the blame game and focus on getting Ontarians through this third wave,” said Guelph MPP and Green Party leader Mike Schreiner in a statement. “Instead of blowing the dog whistle on borders, Ford needs to take accountability and focus on addressing the workplace outbreaks that are driving the spread of COVID in Ontario, with concrete measures like 10 paid sick days, mandated medical-grade PPE and rapid testing, and robust workplace inspections.
“We can’t make the same mistake again with premature reopenings and mixed messages that fly in the face of the Science Table’s advice,” Schreiner added.
“People are frustrated. They are exhausted. They are struggling with isolation. And they will be devastated to hear this Stay at Home order has to be extended, yet again, because of Doug Ford’s choices,” added official opposition leader Andrea Horwath in her own statement. “People and families have to stay locked down because Ford refuses to do what the experts have been telling him to do.”
During reporter questions, Ford was asked about his absence from the public eye over the last few weeks. A report from CTV said that it was an intentional strategy to allow Ford to reboot his image after a series of missteps when the emergency break was originally pulled in April. Ford said that you may not see him, but he’s working harder than ever.
“Make no mistake about it, we’re all working day in and day out, right till midnight every single night,” Ford said. “So we’re going to continue working hard and I’ll be open to answering any questions, but I want to thank both my ministers here that have been working extremely hard and doing an incredible job.”