Ontario’s economy will begin its gradual reopening on Tuesday, resuming all construction, restarting scheduled surgeries and allowing retail stores outside of malls to open with physical distancing guidelines. But limits on social gatherings remain in place, with the government looking into ways for people to see their family and friends again as part of its plan to stop the spread of COVID-19.
As early as Saturday, golf courses, marinas and boat clubs, private parks and campgrounds, and businesses that board animals will also be allowed to open in time for the Victoria Day weekend.
“We’re getting thousands of people back to work,” Premier Doug Ford said, but cautioned: “Businesses should open only if they are ready.”
Mr. Ford’s government on Thursday announced the first of its three-stage restart plan, which sets out specific businesses and activities that are allowed to reopen, including outdoor sports fields, pet care and household services.
While each stage is supposed to last two to four weeks, Mr. Ford said the timeline depends on Ontario’s ability to keep its number of COVID-19 cases low. He couldn’t give specific timelines on when other businesses, such as restaurants, bars, and hair salons, will be allowed to resume.
“We can’t fully predict where things will go. So we need to be ready to react if we see a sudden increase in cases,” he said. Mr. Ford has said the government will make an announcement on the future of the school year next week.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province is looking at ways for families to “bubble” with others in order to socialize or see other family members, with more information expected next week.
The reopening plan includes tennis courts and off-leash dog parks, as well as veterinarian care and pet grooming, animal shelters, cleaning services and maintenance. Libraries can resume pickup or deliveries.
Water sports, gymnastics and horse racing will be allowed. Swimming pools, however, will remain closed, and water sports will be permitted only in outdoor bodies of water.
Indoor malls will not be able to open, and stores with street-front entrances must adhere to physical distancing rules by limiting the number of people inside or having appointment-only shopping. Only fitting rooms with doors can be used, and retailers are to restrict use to every second room.
Ontario has released 95 safety guidelines for businesses including office spaces and restaurants, and industries including the auto sector. Guidelines for golf courses say the flag must remain in place and the cup must be elevated “so that the ball does not drop into the hole.”
Ontario on Thursday reported its lowest number of new COVID-19 cases since April 2 at 258 – just a 1.2-per-cent increase from the previous day. The province conducted 17,429 tests that day, with another 17,578 samples still awaiting results.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the reopening plan must include more testing and contact tracing in order to ensure safety. “No one wants to see Ontario take one step forward and two steps back,” she said.
Meanwhile, Ontario announced it is expanding its COVID-19 testing guidelines so that “anyone with symptoms” can be tested for the coronavirus that causes the disease. The province has been prioritizing tests for health care workers, first responders, and those living and working in long-term care facilities.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said his city – still home to more than half of Ontario’s new COVID-19 infections each day – was ready to help retailers. But he urged the province to establish and communicate “very clear understandable criteria that have to be met” before a second stage of even looser restrictions is declared.
“If you asked me if I know right now what criteria ... was used in the decision with respect to Stage 1, I would say no, I don’t,” Mr. Tory said. “I should know that. We all should know that.”
With a report from Jeff Gray in Toronto
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