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Ontario could begin reopening ahead of June 14 target, but how soon remains a question

Ontario is reporting 733 COVID-19 cases and 25 deaths Wednesday as the province's stay-at-home order expires.

Wednesday marks 3rd straight day with case counts below 1,000

Eric Gilbert, 23, gets his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic for Indigenous people, in Toronto, on May 25, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario could move into the first step of its reopening plan slightly sooner than the target date of June 14th, but how soon that could be, Premier Ford isn't saying.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," Ford said at a news conference Wednesday, adding he has put in a proposal to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams about the possibility.

Ford wouldn't say whether the province could begin to reopen a few days earlier or a week earlier than hoped, just that his government made its proposal and is awaiting a response.

"Right now we're at the 14th," he said. "I'm going to rely on Dr. Williams to give us the green light."

Phase 1 of the province's reopening plan includes resuming outdoor activities where the risk of transmission is lower. It includes outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people, outdoor dining with up to four people per table and non-essential retail at 15 per cent capacity.

"Let's not waver," Ford said, "let's keep moving forward."

733 new cases, 25 more deaths

Ford also announced Wednesday that Ontario will not reopen schools for in-person learning this spring.

"It was a hard choice to make," he told reporters. "I don't want to risk the health of our kids and cutting off their summer."

The announcement came as Ontario reported 733 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, marking a third straight day of case counts below 1,000. 

The seven-day rolling average, which helps smooth out the peaks and valleys in the data, also dropped below the 1,000 mark. It now stands at 978, the lowest it's been since Nov. 4, 2020. 

New cases include 173 in Toronto, 134 in Peel, 69 in York Region and 66 in Hamilton, according to Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott. 

The province also recorded 25 more deaths linked to the virus, bringing the cumulative total of COVID-19-related deaths to 8,791.

Stay-at-home order expires, most restrictions remain

Wednesday's figures come as the province's stay-at-home order expires, but most COVID-19 health measures remain in place.

The order enacted in April asked residents to only leave home for reasons deemed essential like exercise, grocery shopping or seeking health care.

As of today, that rule is no longer in effect.

But other existing restrictions on gathering, businesses, services and activities will remain in effect provincewide until Ontario officially enters the first step of its reopening plan.

Current restrictions include limiting indoor gatherings to households only and outdoor gatherings to up to five people, a cap of 25 per cent capacity for essential retail, restricting non-essential retail to curbside pickup and delivery only, limiting short-term rentals to individuals in need of housing, and allowing Ontario Parks and campgrounds to be used for day-use only. 

In accordance with the lifted stay-at-home order, Ontarians can now leave home to travel within the province to a secondary residence for any reason, however, they are not allowed to host members of another household indoors except for a person from another household who lives alone or a caregiver.

Over the weekend, the government announced that it has extended its ban on interprovincial travel until June 16 as part of its emergency measures, which was originally slated to end alongside the stay-at-home order. The ban, which applies to non-essential travel, affects Ontario's land boundaries with Manitoba and Quebec.

Meanwhile, as of Tuesday, the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 decreased by 96, leaving 708 patients hospitalized with the virus. Of that number, 576 people are being treated in intensive care units, a figure that includes out-of-province patients. Of those, 399, or about 69 per cent, needed a ventilator to breathe. 

Ontario's network of labs completed 31,768 tests in the past 24 hours and logged a positivity test rate of 2.8 per cent. 

As of 8 p.m. Tuesday, the Ministry of Health says 139,901 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were administered for a total of more than 9.3 million doses given.

The province is expected to open up second-dose appointments to people aged 70 or older on June 14.

However, at least one region is already offering appointments.

On Wednesday afternoon, York Region shared online that second-dose appointments are available "effective immediately" for anyone 70 years of age or older.

With files from The Canadian Press

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