Ontario to scrap colour-coded framework as it prepares to unveil new reopening plan
TORONTO -- The Ontario government will scrap the colour-coded framework for COVID-19 restrictions that it introduced in the fall and replace it with a new reopening plan that Health Minister Christine Elliott says will be released “very soon.”
The framework was unveiled in early November during the second wave of the pandemic but was effectively set aside when Premier Doug Ford put Ontario under a provincewide lockdown at the beginning of April.
When it was in place the framework was supposed to give the province the ability to quickly ramp up restrictions in regions experiencing a rise in COVID-19 transmission but it was often criticized for being cumbersome and setting too high of a bar for moving regions into its most restrictive category.
On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Ford’s office confirmed that the colour-coded framework will not be revived as Ontario begins to lift restrictions, though it remains unclear what it will be replaced by.
The news comes hours after Health Minister Christine Elliott told reporters at Queen’s Park that work was underway on a new reopening plan that will outline what can reopen and when.
“We have been working with the chief medical officer of health and the medical experts on a safe and careful reopening of Ontario because the last thing we want is to go into it too quickly and to get into a fourth wave. We have to do everything we can to avoid that so we are working on that and we expect it will be available very soon,” Elliott said. “It is sector specific looking at what different types of sectors could perhaps be reopened and what their specific needs and timelines are.”
The Ford government released a staged reopening plan on April 27 of last year, though it did not actually begin to lift restrictions until nearly a month later. In an email to CTV News Toronto, the premier's office said they cannot confirm whether or not the province is considering going back to that original three-stage approach.
Sources within the Progressive Conservative government tell CTV News Toronto that while the new reopening plan hasn’t reached the cabinet table yet, the premier, ministers and public health officials have been engaged in discussions over the thresholds to reopen.
Sources say the government is examining a number of different scenarios, including the specific benchmarks to trigger sector specific or regional openings, but hasn’t yet agreed on which direction to take.
A target date to begin lifting restrictions hasn’t been decided on either but the sources tell CTV News Toronto that the government is working on a rough timeline of June and early July to fully unlock the economy.
The director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table Dr. Peter Juni told CP24 that the reopening plan should be applied on a larger scale instead of to individual regions.
“Now, we talked about leaky lockdowns before, and what we want to avoid is that people hop from region to region, or from public health unit to public health unit,” Juni said.
“This means it should be the same for instance for the Greater Toronto Area, and actually probably the quite entire Golden Horseshoe. And what it should aim at is simple messaging and the clear distinction between indoors and outdoors,” he added.
However, Juni said schools might be able to open up at different times as there is less risk with people region hopping to bring their children to school
“I think many places start to be ready to open schools. And since people typically don't travel, you know, to get their children into schools in other places that's not an issue,” he said.
“Restaurants will be an issue, you know with patios, outdoors, and big box stores, etc. and this is coming much, much later. Right now what we can start to open everywhere consistently, including Toronto and Peel, is just outdoor space safely,” Juni said.
As for outdoor activities like golf and tennis, Juni said he thinks outdoor activities should be allowed to open "relatively soon" to avoid people from congregating indoors.
“It’s much better to go outside, to have simple clear messaging. It’s very simple. If you meet with other people that don’t belong to your household stay two metres away. If you can’t avoid going closer than two metres sometimes, wear a mask. If you do all of that outdoors you’re just OK.”
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams has previously said that he would like to see daily case counts “well below 1,000” before restrictions are lifted. Ontario’s seven-day average is currently 2,287 but has been steadily declining for weeks after nearing 4,300 in mid-April.
“It is not necessarily just the situation with respect to the number of people vaccinated though we do expect to reach 65 per cent (with one dose) before the end of May. But is also based on the hospitalization rates, the number of people in intensive care and the reproductive number. So there are a number of indicators that have to be looked at together in order to make that determination about when we can move into the first stage of reopening,” Elliott said Tuesday.
A number of jurisdictions have already announced staged plans for restarting their economies, including Quebec which released its plan today and intends to lift its curfew on May 28.
A plan released by the Saskatchewan government earlier this month would restart virtually all activities over the course of three stages, each associated with having a certain percentage of the population vaccinated.
With files from CTV News Toronto's Queen's Park Bureau Chief Colin D'Mello