Ontario to move into next phase of COVID-19 reopening 2 days early, sources say

Premier Doug Ford and his cabinet have decided to move Ontario into Step 2 of the government’s reopening plan next Wednesday, two days ahead of schedule, CBC News has learned.

Sources with knowledge of the cabinet decision spoke on condition of confidentiality because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.The announcement is expected to be made Thursday.

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Ford said provincial officials are currently reviewing data and are “working hard to get to Stage 2 as quickly as possible, and Step 3 as soon as it’s safe after that.”

Ford credited vaccine uptake with the province’s progress.

All but one of Ontario’s 34 public health units entered Step 1 of the reopening plan on June 11, with the move to Step 2 currently scheduled for July 2.

Ontario surpasses vaccination targets for Step 3 of plan

The second stage further loosens public health restrictions, with indoor, masked social gatherings of up to five people allowed. Similarly, up to 25 people would be able to attend outdoor functions, while as many as six people could dine together on a patio.

Personal care services like hair stylists and nail salons would also reopen, as long as masks are worn at all times.

Meanwhile, capacity limits on essential retail will move to 50 per cent, up from 25 per cent in Step 1, while non-essential retail capacity increases to 25 per cent, as opposed to 15 per cent.

News of cabinet’s deliberations comes as Ontario surpassed its vaccination targets for Step 3 of the plan, which is not supposed to happen until July 23 at the earliest.

Public health units collectively administered 227,318 doses of COVID-19 vaccines yesterday, a new single-day high. Just over 87 per cent of those shots were second doses.

As of Tuesday night, more than 13 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been given out in the province. About 76.5 per cent of adults have had at least one dose, while nearly 26 per cent of Ontarians 12 and older have had both shots.

The thresholds for Step 3 were 75 per cent of adults with partially immunized, and more than 25 per cent of adults with both shots.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s outgoing chief medical officer of health, had repeatedly suggested it is unlikely that the province would enter Step 2 earlier than planned.

The ultimate effects of moving into Step 1 and loosening some public health restrictions will not start to show themselves in the data until next week, and so Williams has cautioned against proceeding too quickly. He is slated to retire from his post as chief medical officer in Ontario on June 25.

Lowest test positivity in 9 months

Meanwhile, today is the third straight day with fewer than 300 new cases reported. The total is down considerably from last Wednesday, when the province saw 384 infections. 

Labs completed 27,364 tests and Public Health Ontario logged a provincewide positivity rate of 1.2 per cent, the lowest on any day since Sept. 29, 2020.

The seven-day rolling average of daily cases fell to 304.

There are roughly 3,032 confirmed, active cases throughout Ontario, down from more than 43,000 at the peak of the third wave of the pandemic in late April. That said, the province stops counting infections as active after two weeks, so the figure is not necessarily representative of the number of people who are currently experiencing symptoms of the illness.

As of yesterday, there were 305 people with COVID-related illnesses being treated in intensive care units. Of those patients, 190 needed a ventilator to breathe — the fewest since late December 2020.

The Ministry of Health also recorded the deaths of 11 more people with COVID-19, pushing the official toll to 9,093.

More 2nd-dose appointments open

More Ontarians living in designated hot spots for the delta COVID-19 variant are eligible to book earlier second vaccine doses starting today.

Health units covering Toronto, Peel, Halton, Durham, York, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, Waterloo, Hamilton, Simcoe-Muskoka and Porcupine are considered hot spots for the more infectious virus variant.

People in those health units who received a first dose of an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) on or before May 30 can move up their second shots today.

The provincial vaccine booking portal opened to those eligible at 8 a.m. this morning.

By its most recent estimate, Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table said Tuesday, the delta variant currently accounts for about 50.3 per cent of all new cases in the province.

The provincial government says by next week, all adults who received a first dose of an mRNA product can book a second appointment as soon as 28 days after their initial shot.

Second doses were initially booked four months after the first in Ontario but the province is shortening that timeline as more supply becomes available.

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