May 19, 2021
Ontario’s government is planning to announce on Thursday that outdoor amenities will be allowed to reopen within the next few days, with May 25 circled as the likely date when activities like golf and tennis can resume in the province, sources say.
Outdoor amenities such as golf courses and tennis courts have been closed since April 16, when Premier Doug Ford’s government announced new restrictions aimed at curbing the third wave of COVID cases.
At the time, Ford said the decision to stop people from using those amenities was made to reduce people’s movements. But, days later, Ontario’s arms-length science advisers opposed the decision, because it “will not control COVID-19.”
Members of the Ford cabinet have been speaking out this week about allowing outdoor recreation.
Two sources who are aware of the discussions said the Ford government will announce on Thursday that amenities such as golf courses and tennis courts can reopen after the long weekend, with the exact date still up in the air.
Another well-connected source said outdoor amenities might reopen before the long weekend.
When contacted on Wednesday, Ivana Yelich, Ford’s director of media relations, would not confirm the plans.
“Cabinet has not made any decisions,” Yelich said.
In a letter to Ford on Tuesday, several prominent athletics organizations asked him to reopen outdoor recreation, since the risk of spreading COVID-19 among people participating in outdoor sports is low.
“We are urging your government to follow the advice of your own health experts, and immediately reopen outdoor activities such as tennis, golf, basketball, pickleball, volleyball, soccer, and others,” the letter reads.
Senior executives from two of the organizations told iPolitics on Wednesday that the government hadn’t told them when the activities would be allowed.
The Ford government was criticized for its decision to close outdoor recreational spaces, and while it quickly reversed the closure of playgrounds it announced on April 16, it kept other outdoor amenities shuttered.
The decision has prompted backlash in recent weeks from opposition parties and some health-care organizations, including the Ontario Medical Association (OMA), which urged the government to allow outdoor recreation.
“Doctors encourage the government to plan to reopen more outdoor recreational facilities to boost people’s physical and mental health,” the OMA said in a statement on May 13.
“This needs to be done safely and with clear guidelines (for) when to wear masks, how many people can gather, and avoiding closely packed crowds to protect both workers and clients alike,” it continued.
On April 20, four days after the government closed outdoor amenities, Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table released recommendations that said banning safe social connections such as outdoor activities “won’t work.”
“Policies that discourage safe outdoor activity will not control COVID-19, and will disproportionately harm children and those who do not have access to their own green space, especially those living in crowded conditions,” the document reads.
In recent days, Ontario’s NDP has sought to capitalize on the government’s decision to keep outdoor amenities closed, and forced a vote on the matter on Monday.
While the motion was defeated by the government, Health Minister Christine Elliott hinted the province might open outdoor amenities before the stay-at-home order ends on June 2.
“We are anticipating that there may be other events — summer camps, golf, tennis, other things — (that) may be available as of June 2, or perhaps before, depending on the clinical evidence we receive,” she said.
On Wednesday, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones was asked if golf courses would reopen for the May long weekend.
“In the fullness of time,” she said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said the likely date when activities such as tennis and golf can resume is Tuesday, May 26, when Tuesday’s date is in fact May 25.