Policies that discourage safe outdoor activity will not control COVID-19 and will disproportionately harm children and those who do not have access to their own greenspace, especially those living in crowded conditions, says Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.

What will help is permitting only ‘truly essential’ indoor workplaces to stay open, paid sick leave for essential workers and speeding up vaccinations of essential workers in hot spots.

More than one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we know six things will reduce transmission, protect our health care system, and allow us to re-open safely as soon as possible, the advisory board said in a statement posted on their website.

This includes reducing the list of essential businesses that will remain open and ensuring they follow COVID-19 safety protocols in the workplace. Essential workers must also be paid to stay home when they are sick, exposed or need time to get vaccinated.

“An emergency benefit that offers more money, is easily accessible, immediately paid and that, for the duration of the pandemic, is available to essential workers – when they are sick, when they’ve been exposed, need time off to get tested, or when it’s their turn to get vaccinated – will help limit spread,” the statement read.

Pointing out that moving around the province risks creating new hot spots, especially because the variants of concern are so transmissible, the Table recommeded that Ontarians stay in their local communities and movement into the province also be restricted.

The advisory board also recommended that Ontarians be allowed to “spend time with each other outdoors (not indoors), distancing two metres, wearing masks, keeping hands clean”.

“Maintaining social connections and outdoor activity are important to our overall physical and mental health. This means allowing small groups of people from different households to meet outside with masking and two-metre distancing. It means keeping playgrounds open, and clearly encouraging safe outdoor activities,” the statement added.

“If we want to bring cases under control, protect our health system and reopen as quickly as possible, this is the way forward, Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table concluded.

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