Ontario has announced a three-step plan to reopen the province, starting with outdoor recreational amenities, as it gradually prepares to ease pandemic restrictions.
As of May 22, outdoor recreational amenities – like golf courses and tennis courts – will be allowed to reopen, the government said.
Outdoor limits for social gatherings and organized public events will be expanded on Saturday, which will allow these amenities to be used by up to five people.
These amenities include driving ranges, soccer and other sports fields, tennis and basketball courts, and skate parks. No outdoor sports or recreational classes are permitted.
"Today, we're seeing increasingly positive trends and key public health indicators," Premier Doug Ford said. "As a result, we're now in a position to look at a slow and measured reopening of the province, and working in lockstep with our public health officials."
The government said step one of the three-tier plan will likely begin on the week of June 14. The Ford government said they will confirm the start date closer to that week.
The stay-at-home order will expire on June 2, but all non-essential businesses will still be forced to stay closed until the province enters step one.
The province will remain in each step for at least 21 days to monitor the impacts on case numbers as restrictions are relaxed.
To enter this step, Ontario must wait at least two weeks after 60 per cent of adults have received one dose of the vaccine.
According to Health Minister Christine Elliott, Ontario has reached 58 per cent to date.
"It is possible we could reach the level of getting to stage one before June 14," Elliott said. "We are just giving that as an approximate date right now."
The government said step one will focus on resuming outdoor activities with smaller crowds and where the risk of transmission is lower.
Non-essential retail stores will be allowed to reopen with 15 per cent capacity.
Outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed. Outdoor dining, with up to four people per table, will also be allowed to resume.
The first step will also allow restrictions to lift on camps, campgrounds and provincial parks, as well as outdoor pools and splash pads.
To enter this step, 70 per cent of adults need to be vaccinated with one dose and 20 per cent vaccinated with two doses.
The government said this step will allow for indoor gatherings of up to five people, along with outdoor gatherings of 25 people.
Outdoor sports and leagues can resume, along with personal care services, where a face covering can be worn.
Indoor religious services can also resume at 15 per cent capacity.
Essential retail restrictions will be eased, with essential retailers allowed 50 per cent capacity and non-essential 25 per cent.
Outdoor amusement and water parks can also reopen. Outdoor cinemas, performing arts, live music, events and attractions can also being to operate again.
The final step would see life return mostly back to normal and will begin when 70 to 80 per cent of adults in Ontario have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 25 per cent have received both doses.
In this stage, the province would see rules around indoor gatherings finally unravel.
Larger indoor and outdoor gatherings will be allowed, though the province did not specify any numbers.
This step also includes a return to indoor sports and recreational fitness, indoor dining, museums, art galleries, libraries, and casinos.
Indoor seated events can also resume.
Schools not reopening to in-person learning
The province said that schools across the province would continue learning remotely until it is determined that students can return to the classroom safely.
Schools in Ontario have been closed to in-person learning since April 19, 2021, a decision that was made at the height of Ontario's third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In modelling data presented Thursday, the province's science table reported that reopening schools on June 2 would likely result in a six to 11 per cent increase in new daily case numbers, which Ford called concerning.
However, the data also showed that such an increase in COVID-19 infection may be "manageable."
Ontario’s Chief Medical officer of Health Dr. David Williams said that a number of factors will go into deciding whether or not to keep schools closed through the end of the academic year, including the vaccination rates of special education staff and teachers.
He said he would like schools to reopen by June, but said he would be consulting with Minister of Education Stephen Lecce to determine an exact date.
Premier Ford could not confirm if schools would be reopened in June, citing a need for a consensus among his public health advisors.
He said that while Dr. Williams supports the decision based on the current transmission trends of COVID-19, a “few” members of the science table do not.
Moreover, Ford said that his government has to “deal with the teachers” that he says are threatening an injunction to keep schools closed.
Ford made a reference to an alleged injunction by the teachers unions last week, a claim that both the Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation and Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario have since rejected.