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The Ontario government is adopting a two-pronged approach to restarting the economy as the province begins to see signs of hope in its battle against COVID-19.

This week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford outlined his government’s path to recovery post COVID-19 in a new plan, Framework for Reopening the Province. While it provides no specific dates, it includes details of a phased approach, which would gradually loosen emergency measures currently in place to combat the spread of COVID-19.

In addition, it lays out the criteria Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer will use to advise the government on timing to move between phases.

In parallel to its recovery plan, the newly formed Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee will begin consulting with key sectors in all regions across the province to assess the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and develop a plan to move forward. Led by Finance Minister Rod Phillips, the committee is comprised of several of Premier Ford’s cabinet ministers including Deputy Premier and Health Minister Christine Elliott, Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli, Energy Minister Greg Rickford and Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy.

The fact the Ontario government has decided to release preliminary details of its approach to recovery means we’re headed beyond the peak and toward the decline of the first curve of the spread.

A deeper look at the Framework for reopening the Province

Phase One – Protect and Serve: The government’s primary focus remains to protect the health and safety of individuals and families, supporting frontline healthcare workers, essential workers and businesses, and providing immediate support to protect people and jobs. This phase essentially serves as a placeholder for Ontario’s public health measures and emergency orders, suggesting that they could remain in place for a prolonged period.

Phase Two – Restart: When appropriate, the government will implement a stage-by-stage method to loosening emergency measures and reopening Ontario’s economy. Public health officials will carefully monitor each stage for two-to-four weeks, as they assess the evolution of the COVID-19 outbreak to determine if it is necessary to change course to maintain public health. The government will also continue to issue guidelines for businesses on workplace safety.

Phase Three – Recover: As Ontario eventually transitions to a “new normal,” the government will partner with businesses and other sectors to lead Ontario’s economic recovery. The focus will be on creating jobs and opportunity across the province, while working to restore long-term prosperity for the benefit of every individual and family in Ontario.

Throughout these phases, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health will consider the following criteria to advise government on timing and the movement between public health measures and emergency orders: virus spread and containment; health system capacity; public health system capacity; and incidence tracking capacity.

For example, Ontario’s ability to track and contain the spread of the virus will ensure that the loosening of measures is appropriately timed with the progression of the pandemic. A consistent two to four-week decrease in the number of new daily cases, a decrease in the rate of cases that cannot be traced to a source, and a decrease in the number of new COVID-19 cases in hospitals, will effectively lead to loosening some measures.

So how did we get here?

We’ve been hearing it for a few weeks now: our public health measures are working. According to recent modelling data, COVID-19 cases through community transmission peaked in April rather than May. This is due to the effectiveness of mandated public health measures, which include staying home as much as possible and physically distancing from each other when outside for essential reasons. The total number of confirmed cases is hovering above 15,000, which is significantly lower than initial modelling that predicted up to 80,000 cases by the end of April.

Based on these figures, Ontario seems destined for its best-case scenario, but there is a caveat to it all: the impact of the pandemic on our most vulnerable demographic. Sadly, there is still a significant difference between the spread of COVID-19 in the community and in congregate settings, such as long-term care homes, homeless shelters and homes serving those with developmental disabilities, where there is an accelerated upswing of the curve, and an alarming mortality rate among those infected.

Ontario’s action plans for long-term care homes and vulnerable people seek to address these issues by introducing new measures to increase testing, screening and surveillance; manage outbreaks and spread of the disease; and grow staffing capacity. And while these measures are focused on the immediate needs of our province from a healthcare perspective, Premier Ford must concurrently look ahead to how his government will chart a path to economic recovery in the not-so-distant future.

What’s next?

While the government's primary focus is on combatting the virus, supporting frontline healthcare workers and providing immediate relief to people and businesses, the Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee is developing a plan to stimulate economic growth and job-creation in the weeks and months ahead. While details on industry participation are scarce, the committee plans to engage with key sectors in all regions across the province, including with business associations, chambers of commerce, municipal leaders, the postsecondary sector, corporate leaders, small business owners, community and social service providers, Indigenous partners, Franco-Ontarians, entrepreneurs and others.

How can your organization participate?

Today, NATIONAL continues to bridge the gap between business and government by enabling organizations to have their voices heard when it matters most. Please contact our Public Affairs team to learn more about how your organization can participate in discussions led by the Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee and play your part in our province’s path to recovery.