Ontario prepares to reopen after punishing third COVID-19 wave

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Healthcare workers from Switch Health administer the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Ontario Khalsa Darbar pop-up vaccination clinic at the Sikh Gurudwara in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada May 4, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio/File Photo

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TORONTO, May 20 (Reuters) - Ontario expects to permit outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people and allow non-essential retail to operate at 15% capacity starting the week of June 14, contingent on certain vaccination rates being met, the premier said on Thursday.

Canada's most-populous province has been under lockdown since early April when a third wave of the coronavirus threatened to overwhelm hospital capacity.

The reopening will be confirmed closer to the date, Premier Doug Ford said. The province will reopen outdoor amenities - including playgrounds, basketball courts and golf courses - on Saturday.

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COVID-19 cases are falling steadily in Ontario, and new government modeling showed that if restrictions were maintained until mid-June, cases would likely remain under control.

"We're now in a position to look at a slow and measured reopening of the province," Ford said. "This is being done slowly and with extreme caution."

Step one of a three-step reopening will also include outdoor dining with up to four people per table.

Entering step one will require 60% of eligible Ontario adults to have received at least one vaccine dose. The province's current vaccination rate is 57.6%. Each step will last for at least 21 days, a government news release said.

The plan is largely in step with what public health officials recommended when explaining the new case modeling.

Ford's government took heavy criticism for reopening too soon in March, which resulted in the punishing third wave.

"The direction of the pandemic has turned and if we're careful and cautious, we can maintain this momentum," Dr. Steini Brown, co-chair of Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said.

British Columbia Premier John Horgan said he would announce reopening plans on Tuesday for the Pacific Coast province.

At the other end of the spectrum, Manitoba officials said the western Canadian province would ban outdoor gatherings among people from different households, after registering a record-high 603 daily cases.

Manitoba has Canada’s highest rate of infections in the past seven days, overloading its intensive care units and forcing it to send several patients to northern Ontario.

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Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by Leslie Adler

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