The Ontario government continued plans to ease the lockdown Saturday and announced provincial parks would reopen next week, as the education minister also announced financial supports to keep child-care providers afloat.
Premier Doug Ford said hundreds of provincial parks would reopen with physical distancing rules in place on Monday, with the rest set to open by the end of the week.
“These places will be open for walking, hiking, bird-watching and biking… people will once again be able to enjoy the outdoors,” said Ford, who said physical distancing measures will stay in place and people are urged not to gather.
“We’re trusting people to be responsible and take this seriously so they can enjoy themselves while staying safe and healthy.”
The announcement comes as Ontario reported another 346 cases of COVID-19 and 59 more deaths related to the virus.
The daily growth rate was at its lowest since March at just 1.8 per cent, with a new total of 19,944 cases of the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government will help child-care centres cover their operating costs and waive all fees related to licensing, although he didn’t go into detail about how much money is earmarked for the program.
He said the province will look at each application on a case-by-case basis.
Lecce said it’s imperative to support child-care providers so that parents can return to work when the pandemic is over.
“We want to make sure people are working, we want to make sure that parents are supported, we want to make sure that your kids are safe,” said Lecce, saying their child-care services will ensure Ontario’s economy can bounce back from the pandemic.
“It is so consequential for getting parents and families back in the labour market.”
Advocacy groups for child-care facilities had been calling for financial support since April, after providers were forced to shutdown and stop collecting fees because of the spread of COVID-19.
Some facilities were allowed to remain open to provide their services to the children of front-line workers.
In Toronto, the owners of Blossoming Minds Learning Centre say the announcement comes as a relief, but they’re waiting to hear more details about whether the support will be substantial enough to keep them afloat.
“(Lecce) didn’t commit to any level of funding so we’re not sure what level of funding they’re talking about,” said Krista Dahlgren, a director at the facility, who said their business’ monthly operating costs come in at $25,000 from rent, loan and insurance payments.
“It’s going to be in the details, which are not available yet.”
Dahlgren said they’re happy to see a first step in support but will be waiting to see how far it goes.
She said some child-care providers they know have signalled they’ll shutdown permanently by June without immediate support.
The childcare centre also said it wants more clarity about what kind of restrictions and requirements will be placed on facilities when they are eventually allowed to reopen.
Meanwhile, the province continued other steps to loosen lockdown restrictions on Saturday, with hardware stores now allowed to open to customers.
On Monday, stores with a street entrance will be allowed to provide curb-side pickups for customers.
The reopening of provincial parks comes with certain restrictions: beaches, camping areas and playgrounds will remain closed.
Park officials will also be patrolling the area to ensure that visitors are maintaining physical distancing rules, the government said.
The province is asking people to only visit parks that are local to them and to avoid gathering at them.
The announcement comes as the number of people in hospital, on ventilators and in intensive care has also dropped since Friday’s report.