ontario reopening

Ontario is now considering taking a regional approach to reopening the province

After long insisting that the province be opened up "as one unit," Ontario Premier Doug Ford has changed his tune, saying that he may now consider allowing some regions to progress to later stages of reopening sooner than others.

He revealed in his press conference on May 29 that a regional approach is "an option we are looking at" given that testing in the province is now being greatly expanded and increased to indicate hot spots and provide a better portrait of the health crisis at a local level.

Politicians and residents from outside of the GTA have been calling for their communities to be treated differently from the city for some time, given the fact that more than three quarter's of Ontario's COVID-19 cases so far have been in the Toronto area.

Though the premier did not fully endorse the idea, he did say Friday that he is "comfortable" with examining the option and that "everything is on the table" as far as next steps.

As he pointed out earlier this month, reopening at different paces could get complicated, and lead to those living in a region harder hit by the pandemic simply traveling to somewhere where more things are open, which presents its own issues.

"If they loosen up restrictions in one area, guess where all the people from Toronto and the GTA are going if they want to go have dinner?" he said on May 6.

This would also pose a problem for people who have multiple properties in the province, like cottages — a topic Ford and cottage-area Mayors have gone back and forth on.

Still, provinces like Quebec and Alberta are moving forward with staggered approaches to returning to a new normal, taking into account variations in case counts and outbreak severity between cities.

Montreal, the epicentre of the virus in Quebec, has had later opening dates for things like schools and businesses than the rest of the province, as have the areas of Calgary and Brooks in Alberta.

As with all pandemic plans and policies, Ford will be heeding the advice of the province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams when deciding how and and when to deviate from a blanket approach for reopening the province.

"I'm no health expert, I rely on science [and] I'm not going to go against the advice of medical professionals on this," Ford said Friday. "When we have more testing, we have a better scope on what's happening around the province, that's what allows us to make these decisions."

Though Williams has acknowledged that the reality of the health crisis is very different from one part of the province to the next (and that it is worse in the GTA), he expressed concern for "the wider picture" regionalization, including how to outline regions and how to adequately communicate what is open, where and why to the public.

"We have to look at how would you organize that, what does the difference in regional mean, how would you interpret that to your public and your decision makers," Williams said Friday.

"[How do] you communicate this so that the public would understand and that they would respect each other's jurisdictions, and not try to violate the regionalization and compromise the process."

There is also the concern of what to do if regions directly adjacent to one another have dramatic disparities in situations.

According to officials, we are now in the "post-peak" phase of the pandemic, with daily new cases below the 400 mark for the fourth day in a row and Stage 1 of reopening going strong.

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