TORONTO -- The Ontario government says it will soon begin a “cautious restart” of family visits to long-term care homes, group homes and retirement homes that are not experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford made the announcement during a news conference on Thursday, saying that starting on June 18, families may be able to visit their loved ones in congregate living settings, but with strict guidelines in place.

"We need families to be able to see their loved ones,” Ford told reporters. “I know this day we have all been desperately waiting for but we can't take this progress for granted, we can't forget that these settings are vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks so we must remain vigilant, we must move forward, but we must do it so carefully."

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams advised long-term care homes in late March to only allow essential visitors, including people visiting residents who are extremely ill or require end-of-life care.

The province is now loosening the recommendation to allow visits to congregate living settings by loved ones if proper protocols are followed.

In order to visit, a person must have tested negative for COVID-19 within two weeks of the visit, they must pass an “active screening questionnaire,” and they must wash their hands upon arrival and departure, as well as wear a mask and maintain physical distance.

"We are seeing the infection numbers stabilize in our long-term care homes and that is thanks to the tireless effort of staff, our hospital partners and the Canadian Armed Forces." Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton told reporters Thursday at the news conference.

"On the advice of the chief medical officer of health, we have developed a responsible phased visitation plan that will allow you to visit your loved ones in long-term care and retirement homes that are not in outbreak starting next week."

For long-term care homes, Fullerton said the province is “allowing one visitor per resident at a minimum of one visit per week for an outdoor visit only.” Retirement homes, she said, will have “indoor and outdoor visits with the number of visitors being left to the discretion of the home.”

There are currently 77 ongoing outbreaks in long-term care settings and 29 in retirement homes. More than 5,307 residents in long-term care battled COVID-19 and more than 1,600 people have died.

Ford said he’s been asked by his wife Karla daily on when she can visit her mother in long-term care, who was previously diagnosed with COVID-19.

“It hits home. I hear her. I see even when we visit outside the window and I talk to other families,” Ford said. “We're going to do everything we can until you can see your loved ones – it means everything to people."

Ford also said that homes have the final say on whether or not they are ready to allow visitors.

Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Todd Smith said two visitors per resident will be allowed in outdoor areas of homes that support people with developmental disabilities, shelters for survivors of gender-based violence and children's residential settings.

"Congregate care settings will be responsible for implementing and communicating infection prevention and control protocols to visitors, which include active screening for all visitors, proof of a negative COVID-19 test within the previous 14 days, temperature checks, physical distancing during the visit, mandatory mask wearing and disinfection of the outdoor area used for the visit,” Smith said.

"We ask all visitors to please take these guidelines seriously and listen to all the staff on site."