Ford teases reopening ahead of June 14 target: ‘I’m hopeful’

By News Staff

Though Ontario schools will remain closed for in-person learning for the rest of the academic year, the Premier did hint the province could reopen ahead of schedule.

Premier Doug Ford was tentatively scheduled to meet with his cabinet twice on Wednesday. Sources tell 680 NEWS that the cabinet was expected to meet in the afternoon to discuss a possible faster economic reopening.

Any economic reopening changes would likely be announced later this week.

The premier’s office has denied that the cabinet will be discussing the reopening plan on Wednesday.

Ford did confirm, however, that he is cautiously optimistic the province could reopen just ahead of schedule but denied putting the economy first and ahead of students and teachers.

“I’m so hopeful that as things are going, we may be able to enter Step 1 safely earlier than June the 14th,” Ford said Wednesday.

The manager for the Queen Street West BIA, Meg Marshall, tells 680 NEWS the province’s re-opening plan doesn’t explain enough for small business owners. For example, hospitality business owners only know one thing for certain: “…we need to have four people at a table, and six feet between a table.”

However, hospitality business owners don’t know how long they’re allowed to be open day to day, if they can entertainment on patios, what the capacity limits are, etc. Marshall adds “there’s so many questions that are left unanswered.”

She adds that this info is needed as soon as possible, so business owners can know if they’ll need to hire more staff, or if they’ll need to increase their budgets to buy more PPE.

Some critics accused the premier on Wednesday of prioritizing the economy over schools – the opposite of the approach championed by the province’s top doctor, who has said repeatedly that he believes schools should be the last to close and the first to open during the pandemic.

“Today, Doug Ford chose patios over schools. Patios over people,” Liberal house leader John Fraser said.

Others criticized the government for failing to act earlier in the pandemic to support in-class learning, which has been disrupted repeatedly as the province battled virus resurgence.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), which had been calling for classes to resume, criticized Ford for ignoring the advice of stakeholders.

Ford signalled last week that despite improving circumstances across Ontario, it is unlikely the three-step reopening plan outlined by the province would be moved up.

The first dose vaccination rate in Ontario is nearing 70 per cent, beyond where the province said they needed to be for Step 1 of the reopening plan to begin.

The reopening plan outlines that 60 per cent of residents would need the first dose for the plan to kick in on June 14.

Ford made it clear that it wasn’t just vaccination rates that the government is looking at to determine the reopening timeline but also ICU capacity and positivity rates.

“We’re going to be opening up but we’re going to be opening up cautiously and carefully, very cautiously and very carefully because I do not want to happen what happened before and all of a sudden the cases go up.”

Reports last week suggest that the government would be willing to consider an earlier reopening if the COVID indicators continued to move in the right direction.

The province reported the smallest daily increase of COVID-19 cases since before the peak of the second wave on Tuesday. There have been fewer than 1,000 new cases for three consecutive days.

In the first step of reopening, larger outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people would be allowed as well as outdoor dining for up to four people per table.

Personal care services would remain closed until Step 2 of the plan. The province said each step would be in place for at least 21 days.

RELATED: Stay-at-home order lifted provincewide: What’s allowed now?

As the province looks ahead to reopening, the Ford government announced Tuesday that the stay-at-home order would be lifted on Wednesday.

The order required Ontarians to remain at home except for the purposes set out in the order, such as exercise, going to the grocery store or pharmacy, or accessing health care services.

These restrictions are no longer in effect though people are still being urged to be safe and continue to get vaccinated in the days and weeks ahead.

The Ford government unveiled Wednesday students will not be back in the classroom before the end of the school year.

With files from The Canadian Press

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