Premier Doug Ford said he doesn’t believe Ontario lifted COVID-19 restrictions too early, despite a recent uptick in hospitalizations and other indications the virus is spreading quickly.

“I don’t think so, considering we were one of the last in North America,” Ford told reporters in Ottawa when asked if the province ended restrictions too soon.

“I’ve been accused of being the most cautious leader in North America. Everyone else in the whole country has taken their masks off.”

Ford also suggested he doesn’t think the government would have to reintroduce COVID-19 restrictions if the numbers surge as they did in previous waves.

“Let’s talk about that—if God forbid that ever happens—at the time. But we’re prepared,” he said. “We’ve learned a tremendous amount over the last two years.”

The Ontario government lifted masking rules in most places on Monday, despite some public health experts suggesting they should remain in place for a few more weeks. The province has also lifted all capacity limits.

Quebec’s mask mandate remains in place, although it has lifted masking requirements in schools. Prince Edward Island also requires masks, which Ford mentioned later in the news conference.

Health Minister Christine Elliott added that the government expected an uptick in COVID-19 wastewater data, which has been reported in recent weeks, as restrictions lifted.

“Dr. Moore did indicate several times that as we reopened Ontario up, we would see higher levels in the wastewater surveillance,” Elliott said. “We are confident that we have the capabilities in our hospitals to be able to take care of anyone who needs a hospital bed or needs to be in intensive care.

“This is something that was suggested we would see in any event, so it’s not surprising to us at all.”

Ford pointed to heightened immunity and high vaccination rates, increased hospital capacity, and an incoming shipment of new antiviral COVID-19 pills from the federal government as reasons the government is prepared.

“Let me assure you: we’ll always be cautious. I’ll always listen to the advice of Dr. Moore and other doctors around the province,” he said.

Province pledges $29.1 million for new Civic campus

Ford was in Ottawa to announce $29.1 million in new funding for the new Ottawa Hospital Civic campus.

The money will go toward planning for the project, which is scheduled to begin construction in 2024 and be completed in 2028.

Ford called the new money “one of the largest planning grants in Ontario history."

The $2.8-billion project will be the largest health care infrastructure project in the city's history.