How, Not When: Ontario’s Framework to Re-Open the Economy

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, along with economic ministers Rod Phillips and Vic Fedeli, and Health Minister Christine Elliott presented a three-stage process to guide the way forward in re-opening Ontario’s economy from the COVID-19 shutdown:

  • Stage 1: “Protect and Support”: open select workplaces and allow some small gatherings, as well as some non-urgent and scheduled surgeries, and other health care services
  • Stage 2: “Restart”: open more workplaces (which may include some service industries and additional office and retail workplaces) and outdoor spaces, and allowance of some larger gatherings
  • Stage 3: “Recover”: further relaxation of restrictions on public gatherings and opening all workplaces

While Premier Ford speculated that he does not think it will be business as usual in the province until a vaccine is available, he stated his hope that Ontario can get back to “semi-normal” if Ontario is able to flatten the curve.

The release of Ontario’s framework followed similar announcements by Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick, with Quebec expected to release their plan tomorrow. These efforts also complement ongoing discussion and collaboration with the federal government on guidance for key principles to inform re-opening decisions in each region.

When will the economy begin to reopen?

Premier Ford clarified that Ontario’s framework focuses on “how we’re reopening, not when we’re reopening,” and that Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer will consider a number of criteria to advise when the province can begin to ease public health measures, which include:

  • A consistent decrease in the number of new daily COVID-19 cases
  • Enough acute and critical care capacity, which includes personal protective equipment
  • Approximately 90% of new COVID-19 cases being reached by local public health officials within one day, with guidance and direction to contain community spread
  • Ongoing testing of suspected COVID-19 cases to detect new outbreaks quickly, including in congregate care settings

While public health officials have indicated the province has likely reached a peak in new COVID-19 cases, the number of new daily cases remains above 400 in recent weeks. How long the peak will last remains an open question, with Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer stating last week that there must be a daily increase of less than 200 cases for an extended time before relaxing emergency measures.

With Ontario’s state of emergency extended until May 12th, and public schools closed until May 31st, it is reasonable to anticipate that it could take weeks until Ontario even starts to implement its staged approach to re-opening.

Who can reopen, and when?

Ontario’s framework does not include specific dates, with Minister Fedeli stating, “this is a roadmap, not a calendar.” Once the province does launch its staged approach to loosening emergency measures and re-opening Ontario’s economy, public health officials will monitor each stage for two to four weeks to determine if it is necessary to change course.

Of course, the question remains which workplaces will be able to re-open in the first tranche.

Certain thresholds such as workplaces that can meet public health/occupational health and safety requirements, or modify their operations for such purposes, will likely fit into this category, but no specific businesses were named today.

In addition, in the coming days, the Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee, as well as Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs), will begin holding discussions with stakeholders from business, the not-for-profit and charitable sector, and Indigenous partners, amongst others, to discuss next steps.