Ontario’s students, who have dealt with some of the toughest COVID-19 restrictions and longest classroom closures in the country, got some good news this week with word that all sport and musical extracurricular activities are back.

The move to allow high-contact sports such as basketball and hockey, as well as singing and wind instrument music groups comes as the province’s top medical officer said the Omicron-fuelled fifth wave of infections has started to recede.

“I’m pleased that we are now at a point where students in Ontario will once again be able to access these activities within a school setting,” the province’s chief medical officer of health, Kieran Moore, said at a news conference on Thursday.

The improving COVID-19 situation also meant that non-urgent and non-emergent surgeries could resume, the government said.

The restrictions were put in place in January as the highly transmissible variant led to the largest spike in cases seen in the two-year pandemic.

Citing downward trends in ICU and overall hospital admissions as well as in community transmission of the virus, Moore said, “We can now see that the Omicron peak is behind us.”

Moore said the COVID-19 situation had clearly shifted since mask and vaccine mandates were implemented, and that medical advisers plan to next week recommend to the government how and when it might be prudent to lift or loosen these as well.

Community sports were permitted to resume several weeks ago, and Moore said he expects to delay removing other restrictions in schools (most notably mask-wearing) for several weeks beyond any broader loosening.

Teachers and education advocates responded to the news by pointing out that extracurriculars are provided on a voluntary basis by educators who have been regularly lambasted by Education Minister Stephen Lecce over the course of the pandemic.

Teachers unions and the government had been at loggerheads over contract negotiations in the months before schools first closed in April 2020, and have since tussled over whether enough has been done to make schools safe.

Ontario school students can return to extracurricular activities including high-contact sports such as indoor basketball, as well as choir and wind instrument ensembles, the provincial government says, as the Omicron-fuelled fifth wave recedes.

Morgan Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer