TORONTO -- A group of scientists advising the Ford government says that Ontario “needs stronger measures to control the pandemic” but it is stressing that any policies that discourage safe outdoor activity “will not control COVID-19 and will disproportionately harm children and those who do not have access to their own greenspace.”

The Ford government ordered the closure of a long list of recreational amenities on Friday but reversed course one day later to make an exception for playgrounds following widespread public outcry.

Despite the pivot most recreational amenities do remain off limits, including park benches, basketball courts, tennis courts and soccer and baseball fields.

In a report released on Tuesday, Ontario’s science table said that there is a need for additional restrictions amid surging case counts and record hospitalizations that have “hospitals buckling.”

But the panel said that the Ford government should be “clearly encouraging safe outdoor activities” and “allowing small groups of people from different households to meet outside with masking and two-metre distancing.”

It said that the Ford government needs to focus on “public health guidance that works” and that means “Ontarians can’t gather indoors with people from outside their household” but can spend time with each other outdoors, where the risk of transmissions is extremely low.

That would seem to go against current restrictions prohibiting anyone from gathering with anyone from outside of their household.

“Policies that discourage safe outdoor activity will not control COVID-19 and will disproportionately harm children and those who do not have access to their own greenspace, especially those living in crowded conditions,” the report warns.

Limit essential workplaces

The Ford government has imposed escalating restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 on three consecutive Fridays but has been criticized for not doing more to address the spread of the virus in essential workplaces.

The report from the science table recommends that the province keep the list of essential workplaces permitted to remain open “as short as possible” and commit to “strictly enforcing COVID-19 safety measures in those places,” including a requirement that workers wear masks indoors at all times.

The report also says that the province should “immediately” allocate as many vaccine doses as possible to hotspot neighbourhoods, vulnerable populations and essential workers.

Here are the six overarching policy areas identified by the panel:

  • Essential workplaces only
  • Paying essential workers to stay home when they are sick, exposed or need time to get vaccinated
  • Accelerating the vaccination of essential workers and those who live in hot spots
  • Limiting mobility
  • Focusing on public health guidance that works
  • Keeping people safely connected