Say goodbye to the colour system, and hello to the three-step program! In advance of the long-weekend, Premier Doug Ford, Health Minister Christine Elliott, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams made an announcement meant to offer a “transparent and predictable plan” that will guide the province’s re-opening starting this weekend with the re-opening of outdoor recreational amenities.
“Every day we risk a fourth wave so we must approach this in the most careful and discipline way,” said Ford at today’s announcement at Queen’s Park. “Above all, you want certainty right now. You want a plan you can count on, a transparent and predictable plan to take the guesswork out of your daily lives, and that’s what this framework is designed to do, to provide certainty and predictability. I know that there might be some people who want to move faster, but we can’t risk it right now.”
So, the plan. Moving into each new phase of the plan will be dependent on various indicators, but the biggest piece of the rollout is vaccine distribution. The first phase, which is expected to go into effect on or around June 14, depends on 60 per cent of Ontario adults having received one dose of a COVID vaccine.
“We know that we need to have at least 60 per cent of people vaccinated to move into the first step,” Elliott explained. “We’re already at 58 per cent, we should be at 65 per cent well before the end of May, but we also look at other issues such as the numbers of new cases, the number of hospitalizations, the number of people in intensive care, the R-rates, the public health capacity and so on. So we are looking at a range of indicator.”
Moving on to the second phase will require 70 per cent of people to have one-dose of the vaccine, plus 20 per cent of all Ontarians to be fully vaccinate. Moving on to phase three will require 70-80 per cent having received one dose, plus 25 per cent with the full course of vaccination.
“The province will remain in each step for at least 21 days. This will allow us to evaluate any impacts on key indicators and determine whether the province is ready to safely move to the next step in his plan based on current trends and key health indicators,” said Elliott. “Our government will continue to work with businesses and sector partners to ensure a clear understanding of when and how they can begin to safely reopen. There is hope for a more open and safe summer.”
As everyone waits for June 14, there is good news in the short term. As of 12:01 am on Saturday May 22, the province will allow outdoor recreation facilities like golf courses, basketball courts, sports fields, and skate parks to be open again, with new outdoor gathering limits set to five people or less.
The plan addresses indoor dining, patios, retail, movie theatres, indoor recreation, performance spaces, tourists attractions, campsites, and nearly every other location imaginable, but there was a conspicuous absence: the fate of Ontario’s schools.
“We have to get a consensus from all the doctors at the science table,” Ford explained. “A few of their members came out this morning and said that they weren’t in favor, and we have to deal with the teachers that are saying that they would possibly put out an injunction, so I just wanted everyone to have consensus.”
Ford made a similar allegation about the teachers’ unions threatening a court injunction if schools are re-opened without their input or consent last week, an accusation that was vehemently denied by the leaders of two of the four provincial teachers’ unions.
“ETFO is not aware of any current applications for injunction by a teacher union to prevent the re-opening of schools in Ontario,” said Sam Hammond. “We have made no such threat, no legal action pending & have not heard from the gov’t since the move to remote learning. More absurd rhetoric from the Premier,” added OSSTF president Harvey Bischof.
Members of the media pressed Ford hard for firm answers on schools, but the premier said that there was just too many safety concerns at the moment to set a date for the re-opening of schools.
“I would love to get the kids back, I want to make sure we also get the kids vaccinated, which we’re going to be doing at the beginning of June and hopefully we’ll have all the all the kids with their first shots in the first 30 days of June,” Ford said. “I’m not going to rush into this. Let’s just see over the next little while, and then we’ll give certainty to the parents, but I fully understand. I talk to the parents every single day.”
There were also no firm answers about what is going to become of the thousands of dosses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that area presently in storage and set to expire on May 31.
“We are waiting for the final recommendations from Dr. Williams and our medical experts on what we should do with the AstraZeneca vaccines, although we do already know that data from the U.K. indicates that any problems with the second shot are far less than any problems with the first shot,” Elliott said.
“We hope to be moving fairly soon on ensuring a second dose is available for people for AstraZeneca,” Williams said. “We want to make sure that the data you have, as well as our physicians, our pharmacists, and our mass centres have everything that you need to make the right decision, that we can assure you that it’s a safe undertaking, and that you get the best coverage.”
On Thursday, the numbers showed that Ontario was continuing to struggle to come down from the third wave. New cases went up 50 per cent from 1,588 on Wednesday to 2,400. There are presently 23,416 active cases of COVID-19 in Ontario, while the 7-day moving rate of confirmed cases in the province is 159 per 100,000. There have been nearly 515,000 total cases of the virus in Ontario since the pandemic began in March 2020.