Starting Tuesday, people in Ontario can go shopping, play sports that allow physical distancing and undergo scheduled surgeries as the province begins the first phase of its COVID-19 reopen plan.
But they still shouldn't see family members they don't live with, and they still aren't allowed to gather in groups larger than five, at least for now, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Thursday.
"I understand the pain you're going through," Ford said. "I just ask, hang in there a little bit longer."
The government also announced another round of workplaces and service providers that will be allowed to open for the Victoria Day long weekend as of 12:01 a.m. Saturday: golf courses, marinas and private parks.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province considers it safe to move ahead with the reopen plan because new cases have steadily declined outside long-term care homes, local health units have been able to effectively do contact tracing on 90 per cent of new cases, and the province has significantly stepped up its struggling testing regime — all requirements the government laid out when it unveiled its plan on April 27.
Opposition NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in a statement that the government still hasn't consistently met its own target of 16,000 COVID-19 tests per day, and the province shouldn't reopen until it expands testing further. Ontario met that 16,000-test benchmark Thursday, but missed it three other days this week.
"No one wants to see Ontario take one step forward and two steps back," Horwath said in a statement. "We don't want to see more people getting sick, and freshly reopened businesses having to close again."
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In the coming days, the government will have more updates on possible changes to the size limit on gatherings, and on when schools might reopen, said Finance Minister Rod Phillips.
"Turning on the economy is not as simple as flicking on a switch," he said.
The reopening also comes with caveats. Elliott asked Ontarians to maintain physical distancing and to wear a mask in situations where it may be difficult to stay two metres apart. Only businesses that can maintain physical distancing can reopen. And Ford said the province is watching for a resurgence in COVID-19 cases.
"Businesses should open only if they are ready," Ford added. "I’ll repeat that: Only if they’re ready. And all of this is dependent on the numbers."
Restaurants remain closed. In-person religious services are also not allowed, though Elliott said the province is looking at ways to bring them back.
Elliott also announced the province is expanding its COVID-19 testing criteria to allow anyone with symptoms to be checked for the virus. So far, Ontario has prioritized testing residents and staff of long-term care homes. (Epidemiologists have recommended widespread testing, including sampling in the community to detect people who may be asymptomatic, as a condition of reopening.)
Here's a full list of what will be allowed to reopen or resume in the coming days.
On Saturday, May 16 at 12:01 a.m.:
- Golf courses (clubhouses can open only for washrooms, and restaurants open only for take-out)
- Marinas, boat clubs and public boat launches
- Private parks and campgrounds, but only to prepare for the season or allow access for trailer and RV owners who have a full-season contract
- Stables and other businesses that board animals, but only to allow owners to visit, ride or care for their animals
On Tuesday, May 19 at 12:01 a.m., if Ontario doesn't experience a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases:
- Retailers with street entrances that are not in shopping malls (additional measures may be needed, like limiting the number of customers in the store at any one time and booking appointments beforehand or on the spot)
- Recreational activities for individual or single competitors, which includes training and sports competitions by a recognized national or provincial sports organization. This includes indoor and outdoor competitions for non-team sports that can be played while maintaining physical distancing and without spectators (examples are tennis, track and field and horse racing)
- Pet care services (grooming, training and veterinary appointments)
- Housekeepers, cooks, cleaning and maintenance work (indoor and outdoor are OK, as long as they can maintain physical distance)
- All construction projects
- Some health and medical services, like in-person counselling and scheduled surgeries