Ford in favour of allowing outdoor dining in Ontario grey zones if doctors, mayors agree

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TORONTO —
Easing restrictions to allow certain outdoor activities, including outdoor dining and fitness classes, for regions in the grey zone is something Premier Doug Ford says he would “absolutely” be in favour of doing provided the medical officers of health and mayors agree to it.

Speaking at a news conference in Hamilton on Thursday, Ford said the province would be willing to amend the grey or “lockdown” zone of his government’s reopening framework to permit more outdoor activities.

“Would I be in favour of letting people get outside and get some air? Absolutely I would be,” he said

“But again, I’m sticking by what I’ve said right from the beginning. I’m sticking with health and the science and if all three doctors agree then we’ll take their advice and move forward… not just the doctors, the mayors too.”

The medical officers of health in both Toronto and Peel Region, two COVID-19 hot spots that are currently in the grey zone, signaled their support for the changes Wednesday, saying that discussions are underway about adjusting some restrictions.

READ MORE: Toronto’s top doctor says city not ready for red zone, but outdoor dining and fitness classes should be permitted

The changes would likely allow restaurants to open patios and gyms to offer fitness classes outside.

Since late November, gyms have been closed in both regions and restaurants have been allowed to remain open for takeout and delivery only.

“Everyone sees the exhaustion within the city as it relates to all the limitations COVID-19 has forced upon us. This is understandable and inevitable. This is why modest steps forward in the realm of outdoor activity are a good proving ground at this time,” Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, said Wednesday.

“If in the window of the next few weeks the data indicates course corrections are necessary than course corrections can be made.”

Ontario has seen a steady increase in new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks and several public health officials have warned that the province is already at the base of the third wave of the pandemic as more transmissible variants continue to circulate at unprecedented rates.

Newly released data estimates that each person with a variant case is now infecting 1.35 other people, an alarmingly high reproductive number Ontario as a whole hasn’t seen since April of last year.

De Villa said she would like to see adjustments made to the grey zone because she cannot “support the kind of reopening that would be provided for under the red zone designation.”

Indoor dining is permitted in the red zone and many additional businesses are allowed to operate, including gyms and hair salons. Small indoor gatherings can also resume for regions in the red zone.

With the exception of Toronto and Peel, all other areas of the GTA are in the red zone of the reopening framework.

Meanwhile, the director of Ontario’s science advisory table is calling for a three-week “hard” lockdown for regions in the Golden Horseshoe, which has seen the highest transmission of COVID-19 in the province.

“If we want to get them (variants) under control and gain just a little bit of time so that the vaccine can kick in… then we just need to do things slightly differently,” Dr. Peter Juni told CTV News on Thursday.

“If we just are smart now and just change our attitude and go back to the way we locked down a year ago one more time and just focus on the areas that actually are in trouble right now… then we probably can get things under control again.”

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