Ontario Announces Reopening Strategy as COVID-19 Situation Stabilizes

April 27, 2020

On April 27, 2020, Ontario Premier Doug Ford unveiled the first step in the province’s strategy for ending its COVID-19 social and economic lockdown. Following the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the approach will be cautious, gradual and informed by scientific evidence. Today’s announcement sets out the broad principles that will be applied, with specifics to be determined as the success of Ontario’s battle against the pandemic becomes clearer.

The strategy is contained in a 13-page document entitled A Framework for Reopening our Province, which outlines the three phases of the Government’s response:

  1. Protect and support;
  2. Restart; and
  3. Recover

The Restart

Today’s announcement essentially marked the beginning of the transition from Phase 1 to Phase 2 – the “Restart”. It goes without saying that this is a critical phase that must be managed carefully in order to avoid rekindling the pandemic.

Timing

Because progress will need to be monitored carefully, it is not possible to give precise timelines for Phase 2. The fact of the announcement suggests that the plan is to begin in the near future, however, and the Government’s current expectation is that, if all goes well, Phase 2 will involve 2 to 4 weeks at each stage.

Advancement from one stage to the next will be determined on the basis of factors such as the following:

  • Continuing consistent reductions in the daily “new case” count;
  • Continuing capacity in Ontario’s acute care facilities, including access to ventilators and PPE;
  • New COVID-19 contacts are being reached by local public health officials within 24 hours at least 90% of the time; and
  • Ongoing testing, especially of vulnerable populations, to detect new outbreaks quickly.

Stage 1: Selected reopenings

At the first stage, certain workplaces whose operations are closed or restricted under the essential services rules released in March will be allowed to reopen. While specific details about which businesses might qualify at this stage are not provided, the basis for the decision will be that the businesses in question “can immediately meet or modify operations to meet public health guidance and occupational health and safety requirements”. As an example, a business that is currently closed but which could function adequately with curbside pick-up, or as a delivery-only operation, would be a prime candidate for early reopening.

Stage 1 would also see the reopening of some parks and a restoration of certain non-urgent services in Ontario hospitals.

Stage 2: Further reopenings

At the second stage, additional workplaces will reopen. These may include service, office and retail businesses and will be subject to risk assessments, presumably on a more individualized basis.

Also open to consideration at Stage 2 would be further reopenings of outdoor spaces and the resumption of some larger outdoor gatherings.

Stage 3: Remaining workplaces reopen

At the third stage, all workplaces could reopen “responsibly” and restrictions on public gatherings would be relaxed, although larger gatherings would be subject to restrictions for the foreseeable future.

Monitoring the process

As noted above, each of the steps above will be subject to constant monitoring by the Government and its health authorities, with adjustments made if, at any point, the pandemic flares up again in Ontario. For that reason, all timelines are approximations.

Guidance on Safe Workplaces

In order to ensure that the reopening proceeds smoothly, the Government will be releasing guidelines to Ontario employers, setting out best practices for protecting the health of employees and customers. Additional inspectors have been hired and the Health and Safety Call Centre has been doubled in size.

Interprovincial Coordination

The document notes the importance of coordinating reopening steps with other provinces and expresses the Government’s intention to do so where possible.

Later Phases

The Framework does not provide details about Phase 3 (“Recover”) other than to note that the Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee, consisting of 13 cabinet ministers, will oversee a process in which Ontarians are consulted about a plan to stimulate economic growth and job creation in a safe and responsible way.

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