As Ontario continues moving through the steps of the provincial government’s initial three-step COVID-19 reopening plan, Premier Doug Ford says the next stages will be unveiled in the near future.
During an unrelated news conference Monday morning, Premier Ford was asked what will come after the province spends at least three weeks in Step 3.
“We’ll be working with the health team. We’ll be rolling that out shortly over the next three weeks. We want to get to Step 3. I know everyone is quite happy in Step 2,” he said.
“We’re just going to work day in and day out (to) number one get every single business open in this province, get them back on their feet, but we’re going to do it cautiously too. So… we’re going to take the directions from the health team and work with them.”
It was on June 30 when Ontario moved into Step 2 of the plan, which expanded outdoor activities and settings as well as began the opening up of indoor settings.
Among the highlights of Step 2 was the reopening of personal care services such as hair and nail salons. Also, indoor gatherings of up to five people were given the OK to go ahead.
Under the plan released on May 20, a minimum period of three weeks will be in place before Step 3 could come into effect. Based on the published criteria, the earliest Ontario could enter Step 3 would be July 21.
During his first news conference since assuming the position of Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore said he expects the province will remain in Step 2 for at least three weeks due to concerns about COVID-19 variants.
“With Delta being present, we obviously have to watch what is going on around the world where Australia and multiple cities have had to lockdown, Israel is back with masking in public spaces, Europe might be looking at further public health measures,” he said, noting the two-to-three-week intervals are important.
“We’re going to be watching internationally, nationally, provincially, locally — being data-driven and advise government based on data.”
In terms of the vaccination guidelines set out for Step 3 (between 70 and 80 percent of eligible adults receiving their first vaccine dose and 25 percent receiving their second dose), those thresholds have since been met.
Moore was pressed about possibly accelerating the move into Step 3. However, he reiterated past government messaging and said reduced hospitalizations, ICUs as well as the level of virus spread and its associated reproduction rate will all be weighed in the decision to leave Step 2 behind (the exact thresholds for each of those data metrics weren’t released).
He also emphasized that at least two weeks is needed for the most recent individuals who received their second vaccine dose in order for them to see their immunity build up.
There have been lingering questions about what will come during and after Step 3 over the past several weeks since the three-phase plan does not return Ontario to pre-pandemic opening and service levels.
In the Step 3 guidelines, there are general statements that speak to a variety of sectors but unlike Steps 1 and 2, there aren’t specifics in certain areas.
For instance, when it comes to gatherings, the current roadmap to reopening states “larger indoor and outdoor gatherings with size limits.” Similar wording is in place for indoor religious ceremonies and rites.
Looking ahead after Step 3, it’s not clear if, like the first three steps, further phases will be tied to COVID-19 vaccination rates.
Also, a number of sectors and industries can operate in Step 3 but with restrictions. It’s not yet known when those restrictions will further be eased or removed.
Here’s a high-level look at what’s changing in Step 3:
- Large indoor, outdoor gatherings allowed and indoor dining reopening
- Greater expansion of capacity for retail businesses
- Larger indoor religious services, rites and ceremonies allowed
- Indoor meeting, event spaces reopening
- Indoor sports, recreational facilities reopening
- Indoor seated events, attractions, cultural amenities reopening
- Casinos and bingo halls reopening
- Other outdoor, Step 2 activities will be allowed to operate indoors
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