'Lift them all': Experts join chorus demanding Ontario let people enjoy some outdoor activities

Thousands have signed a petition demanding the province roll back COVID-19 restrictions on outdoor activities, including boating, as even top scientists say the government is going overboard.

Sailors are mystified at how lonely hours on the water could add to the spread of COVID-19, while some physicians told CTV News Toronto that keeping people from enjoying relatively low-risk outdoor activities could send them inside where the risk of transmission is actually higher.

“It’s very frustrating, especially because we don’t see any reason for it. It’s a safe outdoor activity,” said Ray Kautsky from his boat moored at the Outer Harbour Marina. He said he had planned to take it out long ago but provincial rules are stopping him.

“If I leave the dock and go for a boat ride, I’m not near anybody except my family that’s on the boat with me,” he said.

The province is deep in the throes of a third wave of COVID-19 spread, with hospitals across the province transferring patients to far-flung regions to open up space in the hotspots, many of them within the Greater Toronto Area.

Two weeks ago, Premier Doug Ford imposed these restrictions as well as barring children from playgrounds and giving police powers to stop citizens arbitrarily to ask if they were following COVID-19 restrictions. Scientists at the time panned the moves.

The playground restrictions were undone the next day, as were the police powers, and days later, while in self-isolation after a COVID-19 contact of his own, Ford apologized.

But the other restrictions remained. The province’s order requires a person not use any outdoor recreational amenities, including baseball diamonds, soccer fields, frisbee golf locations, tennis, platform tennis, table tennis and pickle ball courts, basketball courts, BMX parks, and skate parks.

Marinas are allowed to service watercraft, but not allowed to permit any recreational boating.

“Lift them all,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a member of the COVID-19 Science Table. “The science is pretty clear: the risk of transmission for COVID-19 in outdoor settings is extremely rare. Not zero, but a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of what the risk is in indoor venues."

He stressed it’s important to socially distance and wear a mask while outside, avoiding crowds.

Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease specialist at Trillium Health Partners, said the reason is that distances between people are often larger, movement in the air can often move and disperse virus particles, and in comparison to indoors, it’s much safer.

“The problem is when you close these things, you drive these people indoors. You might feel better but the risk of transmission is now much higher,” he said.

He said his patients are largely people getting sick in indoor environments like factories or warehouses. Many live in high-density towers where they may not have balconies or they may live in close contact with other family members.

Restrictions on outdoor activities hurt the poorest the most, said Dr. Naheed Dosani, a palliative care physician and health care activist.

“I hope there’s a consideration for people who live in dense environments as they may not have a backyard. We have to remember it doesn’t affect all people equally,” he said.

Sylvia Jones, the province’s Solicitor-General, told CP24 Friday morning when asked about restrictions on golf that “it’s important to talk about outdoor activities in general…they are excellent and good for our mental health.

“There are a number of conversations happening and I hope we’ll have news to share in the coming days or weeks,” she said.