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Regional reopening framework being discussed by provincial officials, top doc in eastern Ontario says
OTTAWA -- The top doctor for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit says Ontario is working on a framework for regional economic reopenings, as the vast majority of new COVID-19 cases in the province continue to come from the Greater Toronto Area.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford told reporters Monday he was opposed to a regional framework for easing pandemic emergency restrictions.
"It doesn't make sense," Ford said at Queen's Park. "The people of Toronto are going to go into rural areas. We need to tighten things up."
He made the comments on the same day Health Minister Christine Elliot said a decision on expanding the size of public gatherings was pushed back following a recent spike in cases.
However, Medical Officer of Health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit Dr. Paul Roumeliotis says discussions about a regional framework are, in fact, taking place.
"Initially, the recommendation about a month ago was to go provincially," Dr. Roumeliotis told CTV Morning Live's Leslie Roberts in Ottawa Tuesday morning. "Before we started stage one, to make life easier across the province, to not have discrepancies between neighbouring health units, we wanted to make it uniform, thinking that there would be a decrease in cases equally or almost equally across the province."
That has not proven to be the case. On Monday, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said most of the new cases reported in the province have been coming from the Toronto, York, Peel, and Windsor-Essex regions.
Ottawa, for example, reported just five new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, of the 404 reported provincewide. In the Eastern Ontario Health Unit's region, there were just two this past weekend.
Dr. Roumeliotis says, in light of these regional differences, there are talks between the province's health officials about how to effectively reopen different regions safely.
"We're looking at how we can lay down a framework that will allow individual regions or areas within the province to open up quicker than others, so that's a discussion we're having," he said. "So, as we're looking at some of these discrepancies regionally, where we're seeing a spike around the GTA, you can envision now that it would make sense that we would have an approach where we'd have a framework with a checklist and, if it's all ticked off, we'll proceed with more reopening and further relaxation of the restrictions."
Despite the Premier's objections, Dr. Roumeliotis said there has been no pushback on the idea from health officials who have been discussing it.
"The chief medical officer of health has a group together, the Public Health Measures Table, and we're looking at what would be the best approach. We're just in the middle of discussions, looking at the best way now to be able to allow regions to open earlier than others, but in a way that doesn't cause a lot of confusion."
Dr. Roumeliotis said one of the major points of discussion involves the issue the Premier and other critics of a regional approach have raised: that of people traveling from one region with tighter restrictions to another with looser restrictions.
"We don't want people at the border of a certain area to be confused. If one area is closed and the neighbouring city is open, all the people from the area that's closed will go to the area that's open so we have to balance that. There's really no pushback, it's just logistics."
The idea of regional approaches to implementing or lifting restrictions is not unprecedented in Canada. In Quebec, restrictions for areas outside of Montreal began to be lifted in early May, while Montreal only began reopening this week. In Alberta, restrictions were lifted provincewide May 14, but remained in place in Calgary and Brooks--where a majority of the province's caseload was located--until May 25.
Dr. Roumeliotis says he expects a decision from provincial health officials by the end this week.
"I think all of us agree with this principle of having a regional approach and not having to wait for Toronto or other areas to have lower numbers."