On April 27, 2020, Ontario Premier Doug Ford unveiled Ontario’s framework for re-opening the province as the number of COVID-19 cases begins to decline. Premier Ford was joined by Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott; Minister of Finance Rod Phillips; and Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade Vic Fedeli.
Last week, the Ontario government also announced the extension of public school and provincial park closures until at least May 31, 2020.
Framework for Re-Opening Ontario after COVID-19
Today, Premier Doug Ford released A Framework for Reopening our Province,which outlines the criteria Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and health experts will use to advise the government on the loosening of emergency measures in the weeks and months ahead. The framework also provides guiding principles for the safe, gradual reopening of businesses, services and public spaces.
The framework released today provides an indication of how Ontario will go about lifting COVID-19 restrictions, rather than prescribing exact dates on which certain steps will be taken. Premier Ford was adamant that he will not be rushed into setting specific dates for the lifting of restrictions in Ontario and urged Ontarians to continue to follow physical distancing and other health protocols.
The framework also outlines a range of criteria which will be used by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and other health experts to advise the government on the easing of public health measures. To ensure the loosening of measures is appropriately timed with the progression of COVID-19 in Ontario, a consistent two-to-four week decrease in the number of new daily cases must be observed prior to restrictions being lifted. The province must also meet health system capacity criteria including availability of ventilators and personal protective equipment prior to restrictions being lifted. Other criteria include ongoing testing and improved contact tracing and tracking of cases.
Ontario’s framework includes a gradual, phased approach to lifting restrictions and re-opening the province. The phases are as follows:
Protect and Support
This is the current phase of the Ontario government’s COVID-19 response and includes all emergency orders currently in place such as the closure of non-essential workplaces, outdoor amenities, bars and restaurants, as well as limits on social gathering sizes and emergency measures in the long-term care sector.
In this phase the government remains focused on protecting the health of individuals and families, supporting frontline health care and other essential workers and providing support to protect people and jobs, as announced in the Action Plan released on March 25.
The “restart” phase of Ontario’s COVID-19 response will include a cautious, three-staged approach to loosening emergency measures with public health remaining the top priority.
Stage 1: Reopen select low-risk workplaces that can immediately meet or modify operations to meet public health guidance and occupational health and safety requirements, such as through curbside pick-up or delivery options. Begin to open some outdoor spaces such as parks and allow for a greater number of individuals to attend certain events such as funerals.
Also in Stage 1, hospitals will begin offering some non-urgent and scheduled surgeries and other health care services. Minister Elliott confirmed that within this stage rescheduled cancer surgeries will be a top priority.
Stage 2: If the initial loosening of public health measures proves successful, the government will consider opening more workplaces based on risk assessments. Workplaces opened in this stage may include service industries and office and retail workplaces. This stage will also include the opening of more outdoor spaces and allowing some larger public gatherings.
Stage 3: If the loosening of public health measures continues to be successful, the government will consider opening all workplaces responsibly and further relaxing restrictions on public gatherings. However, large public gatherings such as concerts and sporting events will continue to be restricted.
During all stages, protections for vulnerable populations will remain in place, as well as the continued practice of physical distancing, hand washing and respiratory hygiene.
This phase constitutes the transition to Ontario’s “new normal” as the government works with businesses and other sectors to lead economic recovery efforts focused on creating jobs across the province and restoring long-term prosperity.
The Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee and Members of Provincial Parliament will consult with a range of individuals and sectors to seek advice and best practices, and to understand the impacts of COVID-19 for each region and sector in Ontario.
Extension of School and Provincial Park Closures
Last week, the Ontario government announced that public schools and provincial parks will remain closed until at least May 31, 2020.
Yesterday, Minister of Education Stephen Lecce announced that all publicly-funded schools in Ontario will remain closed through the end of May. The Ministry of Education will replace the remainder of Professional Activity (PA) and examination days with instructional time and will introduce an expanded summer learning program for credit recovery, supporting vulnerable students and course upgrading. Should schools be permitted to reopen, school employees will have access as of May 29.