TORONTO — Ontario is extending its stay-at-home order until June 2, a move Premier Doug Ford said was aimed at bringing down the number of COVID-19 infections while ramping up vaccinations to achieve a "two-dose summer."
The government had hinted in recent days at prolonged restrictions, which will see all public schools and thousands of non-essential businesses remain closed. But many had hoped it would end a controversial ban on outdoor recreational activities that experts say are important for people's physical and mental health.
Ford, however, said recreational outdoor facilities would remain closed to limit mobility and other behaviour that could contribute to spread of the virus.
"They pick up another buddy, two or three go out, go golfing, there's nothing wrong with golfing," he said. "The problem is, then after golf they go back, they have some pops. That's the problem."
Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath expressed disappointment with that decision.
“I think it’s very clearly what leading public health and other science advisers are saying,” she said. “I think there's a lot of room to give Ontarians a break.”
The Progressive Conservative premier, who has been more vocal recently in his criticism of the federal government's handling of the pandemic, took a dig at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his recent remarks about a "one-dose summer."
"I just don't believe in a one-dose summer," Ford said. "It's just not good enough. ... if we get the supply, we will work our backs off to have a two-dose summer."
A spokeswoman for Ford later told The Canadian Press that the province aims to have all willing adults in Ontario fully immunized against COVID-19 by Sept. 22.
"So long as we receive sufficient supply from the federal government, we will work to get everyone who wants to be vaccinated fully vaccinated this summer," Ivana Yelich said in an email.
The president of the Ontario Medical Association said family doctors can help the province achieve that goal.
"We do need to see more empowerment and capacity amongst family doctors to help their patients get vaccinated and to be able to administer in office when feasible,” Dr. Samantha Hill said.
Meanwhile, the province's top doctor said he would like to see the number of daily infections drop "well below" 1,000 before Ontario lifts the stay-at-home order.
"We want to open and stay open," Dr. David Williams said. "We do not want a fourth wave at all."
The premier blamed Ottawa for the third wave of the pandemic, suggesting a significant number of cases of the COVID-19 variants had entered Ontario through its land, air and water borders, a claim disputed by experts.
The province's own science advisers had warned the government back in February that without strict measures, the variants of concern would trigger a third wave of the pandemic that could overwhelm the health-care system.
The province, however, briefly loosened restrictions despite the warning before a surge of infections forced it to impose another lockdown.
"The reality is, existing border measures have failed to keep the contagious variants out of Canada," Ford said. "This brutal third wave is fuelled almost entirely by variants that pass too easily through our borders."
Trudeau said Thursday he was "frustrated" and "disappointed" with the Ontario premier.
In an interview with Toronto television station CP24, the prime minister said Ottawa has reduced the number of international flights and is open to working with the province to enact more restrictions.
“We're there to continue to support Ontarians through this difficult time in whatever ways are necessary," he said. "It's just unfortunate that Doug Ford continues to play politics.”
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner also slammed Ford for being preoccupied with attacking the federal government on border issues, saying he should in stead be doing more to prevent the main source of outbreaks - workplaces.
"The premier is using the border to deflect from his own failures to ... avoid, or at least mitigate, the third wave," he said.
Ontario declared a state of emergency and invoked the stay-at-home order in early April amid skyrocketing cases.
Under the order, stores providing essential goods remain open but are only permitted to sell grocery and pharmacy items. Non-essential retailers are limited to curbside pickup and delivery. Restaurants and gyms are closed for in-person service.
Ford also stressed that while he knows people are eager for some "sense of normalcy," COVID-19 variants of concern remain a risk to the province.
"We need public health doctors, teachers and our labour partners to agree on the best path forward," he said. "We simply don't have that right now."
Ontario reported 2,759 new COVID-19 cases today, with 31 more deaths from the virus. There are 1,632 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 across the province, including 776 in intensive care.
The president of the Ontario Hospital Association said the group "fully supports" the extension of the stay-at-home order and urged people to follow the public health measures.
"Hospitals are continuing to operate in a state of emergency and are doing everything they can to maintain equitable access to care," Anthony Dale said in a statement.
-with files from Holly McKenzie-Sutter.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2021. '
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press