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Joanne Laucius

Publishing date:

Jun 03, 2021  •  5 days ago  •  9 minute read  •  14 Comments

File: Premier Doug Ford expected to announce decision on school reopenings. Photo by Carlos Osorio /The Canadian Press Thing you need to know, briefly

Ontario reports 733 new cases Wednesday42 new cases reported in Ottawa Students won’t return to school before September, Premier Doug Ford announced Wednesday.

While acknowledging that the pandemic has been hard on children, the premier said if students head back to school, it could lead to thousands more cases and the spread of dangerous variants, especially the B.1.617.2 variant, first identified in India.

The decisions made Wednesday will help ensure a safe summer and a safe return to school in September when as many students and teachers as possible have received two doses of vaccine, said the premier, who cited modelling that showed cases could go up by as much as six to 11 per cent if schools reopened.

Case numbers have been dropping, but the province has to move forward cautiously, said Ford.

“If these variants take hold, we’ve lost the summer. That would be a disaster.”

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Ford said the message he has heard repeatedly from health experts is “outdoors good, indoors bad.” He wants schools to host outdoor graduation events for students in all grades so they can reconnect with their friends and playing sports and going to camp this summer.

“My heart breaks for them. But it would break twice as much if we said there would be no summer.”

Meanwhile, the premier said the province might head into Step One of the “roadmap” to reopening sooner than June 14 as planned. If that happens, the province will be on track to enter Step Two by July 1, Ford told reporters. He said he is waiting for a response from the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams and other medical experts.

Last month, Ford suggested that the province would move to Step One of its three-step reopening scheduled in the week of June 14. Step One is to begin two weeks after 60 per cent of adults have received at least one dose of vaccine.

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The premier announced plans to speed up other aspects of reopening, saying he’s consulting with the province’s chief medical officer of health to figure out when restaurant patios and non-essential retailers can safely reopen.

The province had planned on entering that phase on June 14, but Ford said he’s trying to move that date up.

Under step one rules, outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people will be permitted along with outdoor dining with up to four people at a table and non-essential retail at 15 per cent capacity. Retail stores in malls will remain closed unless they have a street-facing entrance.

Outdoor team sports will be permitted for training only, with a maximum of 10 people and three-metre distances maintained.

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Outdoor pools, splash pads and waterslides will be open, but capacity will be limited to maintaining a two-metre distance. Campsites, campgrounds and short-term rentals will also be permitted, along with overnight camping at Ontario Parks.

Ford denied that he was choosing the economy over schools.

“What I am choosing is avoiding two million kids going indoors for eight hours a day for two or three-week period. We want to get everyone vaccinated. Right now, we don’t have enough kids or teachers vaccinated.”

Asked why Ontario school children have been out of school longer than children in any other province, Ford said Ontario has 15 million people and two million elementary and secondary students, more than any other province.

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He also reiterated his stance that the Canada’s borders are weak, and the federal government ought to be reducing the flow of people into the province.

“It boggles my mind why we aren’t doing anything,” he said. “The federal government is just twiddling their thumbs.”

Ford said although he encourages vaccinations, he is not in favour of making it mandatory for teachers and students.

“It was a hard choice to make, but I won’t take unnecessary risks with our children,” he said.

Ford has expressed concerns about the increased risk of COVID-19 transmission associated with reopening schools.

The province’s Science Table has warned that a full reopening of schools would result in a six to 11 per cent rise in daily case counts, but it has called that “manageable” given the benefits of allowing students to return to class. The experts said that most public health units believe that they can manage those increases in their communities. Schools could also reopen on a regional basis, the statement noted.

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But the statement also noted that the B.1.617.2 variant of concern (first identified in India) presents a “significant unknown.”

“To address that uncertainty, Ontario should ensure access to first doses for all eligible Ontarians and accelerate second doses for those most vulnerable to COVID, while keeping other sectors closed until they are reopened by the framework. We must keep case numbers low enough during the next three months to ensure a return to consistent, in-person schooling in September.”

The schools announcement comes as Ontario’s stay-at-home order lifts, although most other public health measures remain in place.

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The order enacted in April asked residents to only leave home for reasons deemed essential like exercise, grocery shopping or seeking health care.

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As of Wednesday, that rule is no longer in effect, but other measures like the five-person limit on outdoor gatherings and restrictions on in-person retail and other businesses remain. Indoor gatherings are still limited to households only, with outdoor gatherings limited to up to five people.

Essential retail remains limited to 25 percent of capacity, and only certain goods may be sold. Non-essential retail will still be limited to curbside pickup and delivery. In-store shopping at big box and discount retailers is limited to essential goods.

The province is aiming to start reopening the economy later this month with looser rules on businesses and outdoor activities.

The province reported 733 new confirmed cases on Wednesday, up slightly from the 699 cases reported on Tuesday, which was the lowest level in seven months. The total number of confirmed cases now stands at 532,891.

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There have been 25 new deaths in the province, bringing the total to 8,791. There are currently 708 people in Ontario hospitals with COVID-19 symptoms, with 576 in ICU and 399 patients on a ventilator.

In other health units in the Ottawa region: Eastern Ontario Health, which includes Cornwall and Hawkesbury, reported three new cases; Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington had two new cases, and; Leeds Grenville and Renfrew County health units reported one each.

So far, 9,082,025 doses of vaccine have been administered in the province, with about one million doses administered in the past seven days, Health Minister Christine Elliott tweeted on Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, a new coalition led by Ottawa-based restaurateur Abbis Mahmoud and representing the restaurant and hospitality sectors in Ottawa and Toronto is calling on government to reopen in a safe, realistic, and timely manner.

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The Canadian Small Business Survival Association is asking the provincial government to give restaurant staff vaccination priority in Step One as well as permitting 11 p.m. or 12 a.m. closings. This would not only incentivize staff and generate revenue, but prevent patrons from going to unregulated private settings where transmission is more likely, said the association, whose members employ about 3,200 workers.

In Step Two, the association is asking that the province permit indoor dining of up to 25 per cent of licensed capacity. Many establishments don’t have patios and those that do are subject to the weather, the group says.

According to the province’s Roadmap to Reopening Ontario, in Step Two, only outdoor dining at restaurants will be allowed, with a maximum of six people per table.

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Latest COVID-19 news in Ottawa Ottawa Public Health reported 42 new confirmed cases and one new death on Wednesday, for a total of 27,139 confirmed cases and 572 deaths.

There are 598 active cases in Ottawa, with 32 people in hospital and six in ICU.

There are no new outbreaks reported. However, there are 18 ongoing outbreaks, including one at The Ottawa Hospital’s General campus 5N unit with three patient cases. There is another ongoing outbreak at the Civic campus E5 unit with three patient cases and a patient death reported.

Both outbreaks started on Sunday.

There are two ongoing outbreaks in child care facilities and four in community settings.

As of Wednesday morning, OPH reported 615,856 doses of vaccine had been distributed, made up of 559,867 first doses and 55,989 second doses.

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Meanwhile, the City of Ottawa will be resuming many of its in-person counter services on June 7, but clients can start reserving appointments on Wednesday.

Counters that will open include Client Service Centres and building code services at City Hall and Ben Franklin Place. Residents must make an appointment for the Client Service Centre by booking online at ottawa.ca. Residents without Internet may call 3-1-1 and choose option 6.

There will be limited counter and document drop-off services at the four Employment and Social Services and Rent Supplement program offices at 370 Catherine St., Mary Pitt Centre at 100 Constellation Dr., 2020 Walkley Rd., and 2339 Ogilvie Rd., weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The reference room at the City of Ottawa Archives will open June 8. Appointments can be made starting Wednesday. Email archives@ottawa.ca or phone 613-580-2857.

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The Provincial Offence Act Court at 100 Constellation Dr. and 110 Laurier Ave. W. will reopen for selected services by appointment only. No walk-ins will be accepted. All services can also be accessed online at www.ottawa.ca/poa.

Because court proceedings are being heard remotely until further notice, there will be no justice of the peace at any of the locations. If you have received a summons to appear in court, do not attend in person. Your matter will be held remotely at the date and time noted on the summons. Conference details are listed at www.ottawa.ca/poa.

The Ottawa Public Library currently has 31 branches open that will continue to offer curbside service. Service updates will be posted at BiblioOttawaLibrary.ca 

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Latest COVID-19 news in Quebec Quebec children should be able to go back to school without masks or classroom bubbles in the fall, as long as COVID-19 cases are low and students are vaccinated.

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said Wednesday authorities are banking on a relatively “normal” return to class, which will include field trips, open common lunchrooms and full-time, in-person attendance.

He says the success of the plan depends on making sure at least 75 per cent of kids 12 to 17 are vaccinated against COVID-19, and he is encouraging parents and teens to book appointments.

Roberge says the uptake in that age group is encouraging, with about 45 per cent having already received a vaccine or having made an appointment, and he says many more kids are expected to be vaccinated through their schools in the coming weeks.

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He says authorities are willing to adjust the plan if COVID-19 cases rise, but he says health orders such as mask-wearing will likely apply only to affected schools.

Quebec reported 288 new cases of COVID-19, and five new deaths on Wednesday.

Hospitalizations continued to decline, with 340 people being treated, down 14 from the previous day. That includes 77 in intensive care (down nine from the previous day).

In the Outaouais, there were eight new cases reported, for a total of 12,227. The death toll has not changed for more than a week, with 214 fatalities since the pandemic began.

The province reported 67,165 additional vaccine doses were administered.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Quebec has reported 370,815 cases and 11,138 deaths linked to COVID-19.

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Latest COVID-19 news in Canada Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau says he’s “very aware” that Canadians are growing impatient about the ongoing shutdown of the Canada-U. S. border.

In a virtual conversation with the CEO of Montreal’s chamber of commerce, Garneau said he and his cabinet colleagues are in discussion with the provinces, but that authorities are wary of opening the floodgates to a possible fourth wave of COVID-19.

Garneau says “predictability” remains the watchword, while acknowledging that the situation a month from now is hard to predict.

Canada and the United States closed the land border to non-essential travel on March 20, 2020.

More On This Topic Ontario students won’t resume in-person classes until September, says Ford Vaccination website glitch fixed, but no vaccines available for frustrated seniors Temporary pause on residential evictions will expire Wednesday (With files from Canadian Press)

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