TORONTO (AP) — Ontario’s premier announced plans Thursday to again allow golf, tennis and other outdoor recreational activities beginning this weekend and said there will be a staged reopening of Canada’s largest province starting next month.
Premier Doug Ford said Ontario is able to loosen pandemic restrictions because coronavirus infections and hospitalizations are in decline while vaccinations increase.
New coronavirus cases have fallen in recent days in Ontario, with more than 2,400 cases reported Thursday, while Canada’s government expects to have 65% of the country’s eligible adults vaccinated with at least one dose by the end of May.
Canada is about to overtake the U.S. in percentage of people with at least one dose, but Canada has only fully vaccinated about 3% of the population because health officials decided to delay the second dose to get more people a first dose level of protection faster. Second doses are expected to be administered for most adults in June and July in Canada.
Ford said outdoor recreation can resume Saturday. He banned golf and tennis last month during a surge of coronavirus cases, making Ontario the only jurisdiction in North America where golf was not allowed. He did withdraw restrictions that closed playgrounds amid criticism from health officials and others on the health importance of outdoor recreation.
The premier also announced a timeline for a stepped resumption of economic and other activities. But he said no decision has been made on whether schools should reopen before the current term ends, saying there are different opinions among his health advisers.
“I’m not going to rush into this,” Ford said.
Under current pandemic measures, retail stores in Ontario are open only for curbside pickup, while gyms and restaurants — including those with outdoor patios — are closed. Most nonessential workers are working from home, and Toronto, Canada’s largest city and financial capital, has largely been on lockdown for six months.
Ford said step one of the reopening plan is expected to begin the week of June 14 and will see some non-essential retail businesses reopen with a limit of 15% capacity. Outdoor restaurant dining will be allowed with no more than four people together, and outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people will be permitted.
The second stage will allow outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people and the resumption of personal care services where masks can be worn. Indoor religious services will restart, with capacity limits of 15%.
The third stage will further expand access to indoor settings with restrictions, including where there are larger numbers of people and where masks cannot be worn.
Officials said each stage will last for at least 21 days, with Ontario advances to the next step only if specific vaccine targets are met and health system indicators remain positive.
Ellis Jacob, the chief executive of Canadian movie theater chain Cineplex, complained of “losing the summer.”
“We have been operating safely in Quebec since February – throughout the entire third wave – while allowing 250 guests per auditorium. Based on what we heard today, cinemas will be locked down in Ontario longer than any other jurisdiction in the world, all due to a government that ignores the facts,” Jacob said in a statement.