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Ontario to reopen provincial parks, conservation reserves for day use Monday

Saturday, May 9th 2020, 2:55 pm - Government also announces new support for child care centres

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says provincial parks and conservation reserves will reopen for limited day use on Monday as the pandemic continues.

A total of 520 parks will open on Monday and the remaining 115 will open on Friday.

Recreational activities will be limited to walking, hiking, biking and bird-watching, said Ford at a daily news briefing at Queen's Park.

Camping is not permitted and all facilities, playgrounds and beaches will remain closed. People are urged to practice physical distancing and stay two metres apart.

"I encourage people to get out and enjoy the outdoors, but please do so in a responsible way. Practice physical distancing and follow the rules set out by health care officials to stop the spread of this virus," Ford said in a news release on Saturday.

All buildings and washrooms, water taps, back country campsites and roofed accommodations will be closed. No group activities will be allowed.

Ontario parks CBC Ontario will reopen provincial parks and conservation reserves on Monday, but camping, beaches and other facilities will remain off limits. (Ontario Parks)

GO TO PARK CLOSEST TO YOUR HOME, MINISTER URGES

Ontario Environment Minister Jeff Yurek says people will be expected to practise physical distancing. He urged them to visit the parks that are closest to their homes instead of spending hours on the highway travelling.

Ontario Parks staff will be on hand to patrol and collect garbage, he said, but people will be expected to take personal responsibility by keeping two metres apart.

Visitors will be able to access all parks and conservation reserves for free until the end of the month.

Over the next several weeks, staff from Ontario Parks will be doing maintenance of the green spaces to ensure recreational facilities will be ready when it is safe to reopen.

In the question and answer session of the news conference, Ford said Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce will announce next week whether the school year will be cancelled or not.

ONTARIO REPORTS LOWEST CASE COUNT OF WEEK

The announcement came after Ontario reported its lowest new COVID-19 case count of the week on Saturday with 346 new confirmed cases of the virus.

Meanwhile, the government has approved an emergency order allowing school board employees to be voluntarily redeployed to hospitals, long-term care homes, retirement homes and women's shelters during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government says many congregate care settings need staff such as custodial and maintenance workers.

"I am encouraging any available educational workers to help out if you can, because you can make a real difference in the lives of those most in need," Premier Doug Ford said in a statement on Saturday.

Staff would continue their employment with the school board, including their compensation and benefits.They would also be eligible for the provincial government's pandemic pay and emergency child care.

CUPE says it supports the emergency order. Many members are "available and eager to support vulnerable residents and exhausted colleagues," Laura Walton, president of CUPE's Ontario School Board Council of Unions, said in a news release on Saturday.

The union said custodians, youth workers, psychologists, maintenance staff, education assistants, social workers, paraprofessionals, special-needs teachers and food service workers have come forward during the pandemic to be seconded to other sectors.

Ontario school CBC Ontario school board staff will be able to work in congregate care during the COVID-19 pandemic under a new emergency order announced Saturday. (Erik White/CBC)

PROVINCE TO COVER OPERATING COSTS OF CHILD-CARE CENTRES

The government also announced it will help cover operating costs for child care centres and waive licensing fees during the closures, in an effort to keep them afloat. Child-care providers are currently banned from charging parents if they are shut down.

"We want childcare spaces to exist," Education Minister Stephen Lecce said on Saturday. "It is so consequential to getting parents and families back in the labour market."

Lecce said the funding will be on a case-by-case basis, but a specific amount of money has not been earmarked for the initiative.

He said the funding will last for a period of months and will also help centres that previously were not eligible for government funding.

Advocates for childcare providers had been calling for some form of support since April.

Lecce urged the child-care providers to apply as well for the federal government's wage subsidy program.

Stephen Lecce Ontario CBC Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce made an announcement about child care centre funding on Saturday morning. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

HARDWARE STORES CAN REOPEN ON SATURDAY

Meanwhile, hardware and safety supply stores can open again in Ontario today, as the province slowly reopens some businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Opening hardware stores is the latest step in the government's plan to slowly reopen Ontario businesses, after garden centres and nurseries were permitted to open Friday. Retail stores with a street entrance can start offering curbside pickup on Monday.

TOTAL ONTARIO CASE COUNT NEARS 20,000

Saturday's daily numbers come after an uptick on Friday of 477 new cases. However, daily case counts have been in the 300s three other times in the past week.

The rate of growth in cases on Saturday compared to Friday was just 1.8 per cent -- the lowest it has been since March.

Ontario reported a total of 19,944 COVID-19 cases on Saturday, with 72 per cent of people recovered.

Ontario's official death count sits at 1,599 people. However, data compiled from regional public health units by CBC News puts the death toll at 1,649.

The province reported three more outbreaks at long-term care homes, for a total of 237.

On Friday, the province's top doctor said community spread is responsible for about 55 per cent of the province's new cases. Dr. David Williams called it "perplexing."

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds had to stop their expected flight from Trenton to Toronto on Saturday morning as part of their salute to Canadians fighting COVID-19. They encountered weather problems east of Toronto and had to turn back, the Snowbirds said in a tweet.

This story was originally published on CBC.ca, with files from the Canadian Press.

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