The first phase of the Ontario government’s reopening, which was due to begin next Monday, has instead been pushed forward to 12:01 a.m. on Friday. But interprovincial travel restrictions will remain in place until at least June 16, while in-person learning at the province’s schools will not return until fall.
The changes to be introduced on Friday include a relaxation of outdoor gathering numbers to 10 people outdoors, outdoor dining with up to four people per table, and the reopening of non-essential retail at 15 percent capacity. Religious services, outdoor exercise classes, day camps and overnight camping will also be permitted to resume, though at reduced capacity.
The announcement came after the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) recorded only two new COVID-19 cases over the weekend. The number of active cases in the region also dropped to double-digits for the first time this year. There were 95 active cases in the EOHU on Monday, 55 of which were in Prescott-Russell.
EOHU Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis said the low numbers were encouraging ahead of the reopening. He recommended a slow and steady approach to reopening in order to avoid the spread of variants.
“The variant can throw a kink in this as well,” he said. “I really think with our vaccination rate and... slowly reopening, we’ll bypass any potential negative effect of that variant.”
Schools remain remote
The reopening plan does not include schools, which will continue to conduct remote learning for the rest of the school year. Premier Doug Ford announced last Wednesday that school would not return to in-class learning until fall. He said an increased risk of COVID-19 spread, including more contagious variants, was behind the decision.
Some health professionals, including Dr. Roumeliotis, had called for schools to return to in-person learning before the end of the school year, while some teachers’ unions had opposed such a move.
Students have been learning remotely since April 19, at the beginning of Ontario’s third wave.
About 74 percent of the adult population in the EOHU has received at least one dose. Dr. Roumeliotis expected that number to increase to about 80 percent in the coming days. About 110 clinics are planned between now and mid-August, providing between 1000 and 1200 doses each.
The 55 active cases in Prescott-Russell on Monday included 14 in Clarence-Rockland, 14 in Russell, 12 in Hawkesbury, 8 in Alfred-Plantagenet, 3 in Casselman, 2 in The Nation, and 1 each in Champlain and East Hawkesbury.