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Reopening of outdoor amenities: The Toronto Board of Health pressing on Ford

The Toronto Board of Health also takes to the field in calling on the Ontario government to reopen outdoor sports and recreation facilities. On Monday, board members voted unanimously in favour of a motion urging the Ford government to lift the ban on the use of these outdoor recreation facilities that have been closed for almost a month.

These are restrictions, Ward 12 councillor Josh Matlow said annoyed, “absurd” and “contrary to people’s interests.” “They don’t make sense. They don’t make sense from the point of view of public guidelines, certainly, as far as I know, they’re not even supported by any science-based advice.”

The controversy erupted as early as last month, shortly after Premier Ford – in an effort to keep up with the rising Covid-19 cases – implemented lockdown across the province and an order to “stay-at-home.” As part of the restrictions imposed by the province, outdoor recreation facilities, including tennis and basketball courts, as well as golf, baseball diamonds, and soccer fields, were forced to close.  As for playgrounds, after a heated reaction from the province’s residents, the premier was forced to back down and reopen them. ” “Not only was closing down outdoor amenities and sports not advised by the province’s own science table but Dr. Peter Jüni, who leads that, spoke out against it,” Matlow said.

In fact, shortly after the restrictions were implemented, the province’s Science Advisory Table confirmed that it had not recommended that course of action, and in a report, indicated that instead, the province should “clearly encourage safe outdoor activities” and should “allow small groups of people from different families to meet outside using masks and observing the distance of two meters.” “Discouraging safe outdoor activity will not help control Covid-19 and will disproportionately harm children and those who do not have access to their green space, especially those living in crowded spaces,” the report reads.

It was the statements made by doctors, public health experts and politicians – including Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown – that put pressure on the province to reopen outdoor sports facilities. But until now the government has been a merchant’s ear: until the infections decrease significantly, “in order to limit our mobility”, these structures will remain closed, it was the answer that leaves no room for reruns.  “What we should be doing, rather than restricting outdoor activities and sports like basketball, golf and tennis and so on, is encourage people to be outdoors – said Matlow – we’ve had over a year to figure out how the virus is transmitted more easily and we know that when people go outside, where it’s well ventilated, the risk is much lower.”

Toronto Medical Officer of Health Eileen de Villa said discussions are underway on this issue with the province. “This is a topic that is constantly discussed by many people working in the world of public health, including Toronto Public Health – said de Villa – we are interested in working with our partners across the province, including the province themselves, to see what we can do to increase opportunities for people to enjoy the outdoors while the warm weather is here.”

Dr. David Williams, Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health, said he was concerned about team sports. “We’re trying to see how we can securely allow them. One of the challenges of some of these group activities… is that the group usually comes to the place in a group, congregates as a group and socializes as a group,” Williams said.

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