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Doug Ford tells Ontarians to ‘just hang in there’ as pressure mounts to ease COVID-19 restrictions


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Doug Ford tells Ontarians to ‘just hang in there’ as pressure mounts to ease COVID-19 restrictions

As vaccination rates skyrocket and new COVID-19 cases counts remain low, pressure is mounting on Premier Doug Ford to accelerate Ontario’s reopening.

The province enters its second step on Wednesday — allowing haircuts and other personal services for the first time in months — having easily surpassed the benchmark of 70 per cent of adults with one shot and 20 per cent fully vaccinated.

But restaurants and fitness centres must wait until Step 3 before indoor dining and workouts will be permitted.

That could be another three weeks away, even though thresholds for that step are between 70 and 80 per cent with one dose and 25 per cent fully vaccinated.

“Just hang in there,” Ford told reporters in Bracebridge on Monday, when Ontario reported 77.3 per cent of adults had one shot and 35.4 per cent had both shots.

“We’ll be talking to the chief medical officer (Dr. Kieran Moore) and I’m going to do everything we can to safely — I want to repeat, safely — open things up. It’s absolutely critical,” the premier said.

“Folks, there’s no one that wants to open this economy up more than I do. I think we’re pretty well 90 per cent there, but it’s not good enough in my opinion,” he said.

Asked about the prohibition on indoor restaurant dining and gyms, Ford said “my heart breaks for the people” in those industries.

“We (have) got to get those gyms open. Folks, just bear with us for a very short period. It’s going to happen.”

But Dan Kelly, president of the 95,000-member Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said “it is beyond ridiculous that Ontario remains in lockdown” while other provinces are reopening.

“SK & AB will remove nearly all COVID restrictions within days while Ontario still has presented no plan to fully reopen,” Kelly said on Twitter, referring to Saskatchewan and Alberta.

“Even step three (in late July) is a partial reopening of most businesses.”

Restaurants Canada, which represents the hospitality sector, took out full-page newspaper ads Monday, complaining that “Ontario is the only jurisdiction in North America where indoor dining is still closed.”

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“Until indoor dining is allowed, most restaurants will continue to struggle to survive. We have hit Ontario’s step 3 targets,” the ads state.

“It is time to fully reopen restaurants.”

In an email to thousands of gym members, GoodLife Fitness founder and CEO David Patchell-Evans blasted Queen’s Park for the continued lockdowns.

“As of (last) Saturday … Ontario (was) the only jurisdiction in North America that does not permit indoor fitness due to COVID-19-related restrictions,” he wrote in a missive signed “Patch.”

“The Ontario government has failed to prioritize your physical and mental health,” the gym mogul continued.

“I am … disappointed and embarrassed that they have made the decision, time and again, to ignore the role of indoor fitness in the maintenance of mental and physical health for millions of Ontarians.”

Mindful that his government opened businesses up in February, which contributed to the pandemic’s third wave, Ford said he will not be rushed.

“With the science table and the health table … I just have to get advice from the docs. I want to get things open as quickly as possible. I think it’s going to come sooner than later.”

Still, sources told the Star there is also frustration at the inconsistent — and sometimes contradictory — counsel provided by the science table that advises the government.

That volunteer panel, which does modelling estimates on potential case counts, had said schools should reopen earlier this month, only to have some of its own scientists immediately dissent and say that wasn’t safe.

Last week, Dr. Peter Jüni, scientific director of the science table, insisted on CBC Radio’s “Ontario Today” that it is too soon to even enter Step 1 because of the contagious nature of the Delta variant.

Jüni suggested the province wait another five to seven days before even entering Step 2.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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