Local golfers could be hitting the links before June 2, even though a motion to reopen outdoor amenities was shot down earlier this week.
The NDP introduced a motion to re-open outdoor amenities in the Ontario Legislature on May 17. It was defeated on the floor 63 to 21.
But during Question Period at Queen’s Park after the vote, Ontario’s Health Minister Christine Elliott said outdoor amenities like golf courses, tennis, pickleball and basketball courts and more could be allowed to reopen, if given the go ahead by Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams.
“We’re not able to do that right now because our numbers are too high. Today is not the day to open up all outdoor recreational activities. We are reviewing the evidence on a daily basis. Our decisions are based on data and clinical evidence. Today is not the day to do that.”
“It may be very soon,” she added. “It may be June 2 or perhaps even before that. But today is not the day. I believe that would be irresponsible for us to do that. But it will happen on or before June 2.”
Outdoor facilities were closed by the Ontario government on April 16 as part of an extension of the current stay-at-home orders. Playgrounds were initially closed, but the decision was reversed by April 17 following backlash.
“Parks are open. Trails are open. People still can go out. We want people to go out for a walk or a run. All of that can still happen,” adds Elliott. “That is how we have to do this. The last thing we want is the fourth wave in Ontario, which would be devastating for the province. This isn’t a forever situation.”
Elliott’s response came after three separate questions related to reopening outdoor amenities by Sara Singh and Jeff Birch of the NDP and Mike Schreiner of the Green Party, who all stressed medical experts never recommended closing these facilities as they’re instrumental to positive well-being and mental health.
“Risk of outdoor COVID-19 transmission is tiny,” says Dr. Isaac Bogoch, who sits on Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine task force.
“Outdoor activities are vital for mental and physical health, especially with stay-at-home orders. Science is clear: outdoor COVID-19 transmission is extremely rare. If you can’t separate by 2 meters, put on a mask. Simple.”
The Ontario Medical Association is also calling for the reopening of these facilities to improve people’s physical and mental health. On the other hand, Elliott says the Ontario Hospital Association is not in favour of reopening outdoor areas due to the potential of COVID-19 transmission.
Premier Doug Ford has defended the decision, saying the closure of these areas was a way for the government to limit resident’s movement and aimed to prevent people from leaving their homes, as it’s considered non-essential.
“Let’s be clear. First and foremost, we have a stay-at-home restriction. I know that this is tough, but we need to respect and understand how and why we’re trying to restrict some mobility,” said Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford, who agrees outdoor areas need to remain closed for the time being.
Supporters of reopening outdoor areas note were no COVID-19 cases reported in Ontario linked back to golf courses throughout 2020, and golfers have been one of the main groups lobbying for changes.
“It’s not about golf,” said Rickford. “It’s not about golf at all. It’s about reopening a whole host of activities. Not everybody golfs. Less than five percent of the population in Ontario golfs.”
“If you open golf, you open pickleball. If you open pickleball, you open tennis. My Lake of the Woods Gun Club should be open. There’s a myriad of examples of recreational activities that put people in motion.”
But Rickford, who also serves as the Minister of Energy, Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development and Mines, says cabinet members will continue to re-evaluate their reopening options ahead of June 2.
“All we’re trying to do is to restrict people’s mobility to settle the spread of these variants down. And frankly, we have accomplished that. We still have a little bit of work to do, but it’s looking promising,” said Rickford, regarding Ontario’s COVID-19 situation as a whole.
“But we have to make sure that we don’t get whiplash, open up too soon and shut back down again. That’s really what we’re trying to prevent,” finished Rickford.
After June 2, each region in the province is expected to transition back into the COVID-19 response framework with certain safety restrictions pertaining to specific levels of risk within a region, unless the stay-at-home orders are extended once again.
But even in the highest tier of restrictions, the Grey-Lockdown level of the framework, outdoor recreational amenities would be allowed to reopen with safety restrictions, such as limiting team sports, for example. The Grey level is the only level of restrictions that list measures for outdoor areas.
The Public Health Agency of Canada’s new timeline for ‘returning to normal’, released May 14, states if 75 percent of eligible residents receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 20 percent have received their second dose by the summer, restrictions such as those on outdoor areas could be lifted.
They say by the fall, if 75 percent of those eligible for vaccines have received both doses, restrictions could lift enough to allow indoor activities with those outside of your household – like colleges, sports and gatherings – with masking and social distancing.
The provincial and federal governments both say they’re aiming to have all willing adults fully immunized by the end of September.
Everyone is asked to continue following all public health measures and to stay home, self-isolate, get tested and remain in isolation until your test results are known. You’re reminded you are still vulnerable after receiving one or both doses of your COVID-19 vaccine.
Further information on booking your COVID-19 vaccine can be found HERE.