Ontario is aiming to ease COVID-19 restrictions and public health orders by the Victoria Day May Long Weekend, May 24, if the province’s case numbers continue to decline.

“Our numbers continue to creep up. We’re having trouble staying on top of that. It makes sense that we endure this for a little bit longer,” shared Kenora-Rainy River MPP and senior member of cabinet Greg Rickford, during a virtual interview earlier this week.

The province reported an additional 2,9411 COVID-19 cases on May 5, as Ontario’s third wave of the virus continues to spread. But on May 4, Ontario reported its lowest increase in daily COVID-19 cases since April 1 – with a total of 2,791 new reports.

“I’m circling the May Long Weekend on my calendar as the time that hopefully, we’ll be able to look at easing some of the restrictions should our numbers come down. We’ll take it one week at a time, but I’m hopeful,” said Rickford, noting fishing season begins on May 15.

Ontario’s current stay-at-home orders are set to expire on May 20, if they aren’t extended. Afterwards, each region is expected to transition back into the provincial COVID-19 response framework with certain safety restrictions pertaining to specific levels of risk within a region.

One restriction put in place by Ontario is the interprovincial border checkpoints at the Ontario and Manitoba border, as well as the Ontario and Quebec border, coordinated by the OPP.

Enforcement officials are set up at interprovincial points of entry to screen incoming passenger vehicles with out-of-province plates to determine their reason for entering Ontario, and those not travelling for essential reasons will be refused entry.

However, as the checkpoints weren’t part of the initial framework, being introduced by Premier Doug Ford along with the extension of our most recent stay-at-home orders on April 19, the provincial checkpoints could end by May 20 to allow visitors through, unless the initiative is extended by the province. 

Rickford, who also serves as the Minister of Northern Development and Mines, Indigenous Affairs and Energy, says while the OPP has had to turn some people away at the nearby checkpoint, the operation has been a success to help keep any additional variants of concern out of Ontario.

“I want to thank the men and women in blue for doing this 24/7. They’ve been fair and reasonable. Inspector Jeff Duggan and I keep in close contact. People are understanding. The border hasn’t been swamped with non-essential travellers. It’s going quite successfully.”

Permitted reasons to pass through the checkpoints include, but are not limited to:

- Live/work in Ontario,
- Health care matters,
- Indigenous Treaty Rights,
- Child care or custody matters,
- Transportation of goods,
- Those travelling through Ontario to another location,
- Those performing work on their recreational properties, with certain conditions provided by the OPP. 

Ontario-plated passenger vehicles will be required to enter the checkpoint but will be allowed to proceed. Commercial vehicles, such as transport trucks, will be permitted to pass.

Further specifics on vehicle border screening legislation can be found at Ontario.ca.

Earlier this week, the Medical Officer of Health for the Northwestern Health Unit, Dr. Kit Young Hoon explained to be placed in the Red-Control level of the framework, a region must report a COVID-19 positivity rate of about 40 cases per 100,000 people per week.

Currently, the Northwestern Health Unit’s catchment area has a rate of 60 cases per 100,000 people, meaning the region would likely be placed into the Grey-Lockdown level of restrictions once again.

If that were to happen, indoor gatherings would remain restricted, outdoor events would be limited to 10 people and indoor dining would remain prohibited, but outdoor recreational amenities like golf courses and parks would reopen.