Provincial authorities on Monday said non-essential retailers in Ontario would be allowed to reopen at limited capacity, as three public health units are set to loosen COVID-19 restrictions.
Premier Doug Ford announced the changes this afternoon as part of his government’s plan to gradually move all of Ontario’s 34 public health units back to a colour-coded reopening framework.
Ontario has been in a provincewide “lockdown” since Dec. 26, and a stay-at-home order was added four weeks ago.
“Today we’re seeing some sunlight break through the clouds,” Ford said. “My friends, the measures are working. Staying home is saving lives.”
The following public health units will move into the green category — the least stringent in terms of COVID-19 restrictions — on Wednesday:
- Hastings Prince Edward Public Health
- Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health
- Renfrew County and District Health Unit
The stay-at-home order will be lifted then in those health units as well.
The order will remain in place in the rest of Ontario until Feb. 16, when it could be lifted in 28 more public health units depending upon COVID-19 trends at the time, the government said.
However, in three hotspot areas, Toronto and the Peel and York regions, the order will remain in effect until at least February 22.
In the coming weeks, the province will progressively move more regions back into the colour-coded system, which includes the green, yellow, orange, red and grey “lockdown” stages.
For now, though, all except the three public health units listed above will stay under the stay-at-home order. As part of today’s announcement, the province detailed some changes to the set of restrictions that apply to areas in lockdown. The government did not specifically say when the shift to the grey zone will occur.
Mainly among them is that non-essential retailers in the grey zones will be allowed to open their doors with a 25 per cent capacity limit. The province said the move is to “support the province’s economic recovery.”
The same applies to some other businesses, including discount and big box retailers, liquor stores, hardware stores and garden centres.
Retailers will also need to have a system in place for “patron screening,” the province said.
Meanwhile, the 50 per cent capacity limit for in-person shopping at essential retailers, such as supermarkets and other stores that primarily sell groceries, as well as convenience stores and pharmacies, will stay in place.
Personal care services, however, are to remain closed.
Gatherings at residences are still prohibited, but outdoor events and social gatherings of up to 10 people with two metres of distance are allowed, with masks strongly encouraged.
Funerals, weddings and baptisms are also allowed, with 10 people either indoors or outdoors, with two metres of distance between them.
Religious gatherings are similarly capped at 10 people indoors with two metres between them, and masks are mandatory. Virtual and drive-in religious services are also allowed.
Indoor recreational fitness facilities remain closed, but outdoor recreational amenities like rinks and trails are allowed to open with restrictions. Ski hills were initially listed in the province’s news release as allowed, but a government spokesperson sent out a statement saying that was a mistake, and they would not be permitted to open.
At Monday’s press conference, Ford also said that ICUs across the province are still under “immense pressure,” and Ontario is seeing “significant delays” with vaccine supply.
Both Ford and Minister of Health Christine Elliott warned that the spectre of new COVID-19 variants still loom over Ontario as well, with variant cases being found in several areas of the province.
Elliott also noted the province is instituting an “emergency brake” in its plan to quickly move a region into lockdown if it experiences a rapid increase in cases, or if its health-care system becomes overwhelmed.
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