Some good news in advance of next week’s holiday has arrived in the form of an announcement that phase 2 of the provincial re-opening is starting two days early. Excellent progress on vaccination rates and lower levels of infection have been the key to an early move to phase 2, which will now begin at 12:01 am on Wednesday June 30, but with one glaring exception.
“Because of the tireless work of our health care heroes, and the record setting success of our vaccine rollout, we are able to move into Step Two ahead of schedule on June 30 with the support of our public health experts” said Premier Doug Ford in a statement Thursday. “We are proceeding safely with the re-opening of our province and will continue to work around the clock until the job is done.”
“The job”, as it stands now, has seen 76 per cent of Ontario’s population over the age of 18 with now at least one shot of one of the three approved COVID-19 vaccines, while 29 per cent of the population has received two doses. In all, 13.3 million vaccine doses have been distributed in Ontario. The original benchmark for entering phase two was 70 per cent of adults with one dose and 20 per cent with two doses for at least two weeks.
“While we can now begin preparing to ease public health measures under the Roadmap, the fight against COVID-19 is not over and we must continue adhering to the public health advice and measures currently in place to maintain this great progress,” said Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health.
Under phase two, outdoor gatherings will be allowed for up to 25 people, and now indoor gatherings will be allowed for up to five people. Essential retail will be allowed for up to 50 per cent capacity while non-essential retail will be allowed for up to 25 per cent.
Personal care businesses will finally be allowed to re-open up to 25 per cent capacity, and so will outdoor concert venues, theatres and cinemas. Spectators will be allowed for outdoor sports facilities up to 25 per cent capacity, and so will racing tracks, speedways, fairs, exhibitions and festivals. Overnight summer camps will be allowed so long as they follow provincial safety guidelines, and outdoor fitness classes and team sports will be allowed so long as there’s physical distancing and no contact.
Up to six people will be permitted at one table for outdoor dining. Religious services, weddings and funerals will now be allowed up to 25 per cent capacity in a place of worship.
All that sounds great, but one public health authority has decided that it has to wait before entering the next phase of the provincial re-opening. For now, Waterloo Region is staying in phase one.
Why? On Thursday, there were 95 new cases of COVID-19 in Waterloo Region according to Public Health Ontario, which is more new cases than in Toronto, Peel, York and Durham combined. And with just 296 new cases in all of Ontario, it means that one-third of all new COVID cases in Ontario on Thursday were centralized in Waterloo.
“To give our residents more time to be vaccinated, to avoid having to take a step back, and based on our situation at this time, I anticipate the Region of Waterloo will be able to move into Step 2 in mid-July,” said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang in a statement. “This approach gives us the best chance to hold onto the gains we have made.”
“I fully understand that pausing our move to step two will greatly impact many in our community,” added Regional Chair Karen Redman. “We are in one of the most critical phases of the pandemic locally and this decision is made with the health and safety of all of our community at heart.”
Guelph though will get to enjoy the phase two re-opening with the rest of Ontario. Along with the same loosened restrictions as the rest of Ontario, Guelph residents will be able to use picnic shelters up to 25 people, while up to 50 people at a time will be able to use the splash pad in Market Square and up to 10 people at a time will be able to use the wading pools at Exhibition Park and Sunny Acres Park.
Under phase two, the Guelph Farmers’ Market will be able to have 134 people at a time shopping indoors, and all branches of the Guelph Public Library will be able to re-open at up to 25 per cent capacity. Guelph Museums will remain closed, and so will the River Run Centre with the exception of day camps starting on July 5.
Also, the Sleeman Centre will finally get some use for the first time 15 months when the Canadian Elite Basketball League’s Guelph Nighthawks take to the court in the Sleeman Centre for their home opener on July 9. No fans will be allowed in the building, but you can watch the game on the CEBL website or listen live on CJOY 1460 AM.
“This is another positive step forward on our journey to put COVID-19 behind us. We’re almost there, and I encourage everyone to keep following the rules and get vaccinated. As we reopen, please support local businesses if you can,” said Mayor Cam Guthrie in a statement.