Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he's hopeful restaurants and gyms in the city will be allowed to reopen before Stage 2 restrictions are lifted in Ontario's other COVID-19 hot spots.
"My hope is that some of those recommendations will allow us to see many of these restaurants and fitness facilities to open — undoubtedly with some parameters from a public safety point of view — before day 28," Watson said Friday, referring to the prescribed 28-day closure period ordered by the province for dine-in bars and restaurants, gyms, movie theatres, casinos and performance venues in Ottawa, Toronto and Peel region earlier this month.
The modified Stage 2 closures were put in place in those regions until at least Nov. 6.
Watson said he'll be passing along recommendations formulated with city officials, local businesses and Ottawa's medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches to the province.
He said Ottawa's improving daily case numbers, along with modelling data released by the province Thursday, support the case for a regional solution, much like how the city emerged from lockdown before the Greater Toronto Area in the summer.
"We're obviously our own city here, 2,600 square kilometres, lots of rural space, so very different than the situations and challenges they're facing in Toronto and Peel region," he said.
At the beginning of the latest closures, Ottawa had the worst per capita rate of COVID-19 infection in the province with 75 cases per 100,000. That's now dwindled to 45 cases per 100,000, better than the other municipalities currently under modified Stage 2 restrictions.
On Friday, Premier Doug Ford said he'd asked all regional medical officers of health to develop proposals for their own areas, but he insisted no region will have the modified Stage 2 restrictions lifted before the 28-days period ends.
Some restriction still required: OPH
Etches and Ottawa Public Health (OPH) are expected to present recommendations to the mayor next week.
"There are still some signals needed, some measures needed to keep driving COVID levels down in our community. They're still too high to avoid hospitalizations and deaths," Etches said in an interview with CBC Ottawa's Adrian Harewood.
"Are modifications possible? Yes. I think we can find a way forward that does enable more business to continue. But we can't go without any public health measures at all, not yet."
Etches said she's consulting with the business community on what practical measures, such as occupancy limits or modified operating hours, can be taken so they can continue operating.
"We need something that allows people to stay open, not close and open, close and open. That doesn't work for businesses," she said.
The new direction follows the release of provincial data Thursday on the evolution of cases and outbreaks in regions that were placed under modified lockdown before Thanksgiving.
It's up to all of us: Etches
The restaurant industry has lamented the loss of indoor dining as temperatures have dropped. The Ontario Restaurant Motel and Hotel Association says there have been approximately 12,000 layoffs in Ottawa alone due to closures.
Mark Kaluski, chair of the Ottawa Coalition of Business Improvement Areas, said the longer COVID-19 closures remained in place, the more people will lose their jobs and even their businesses.
"We're on Beechwood here, I can name five restaurants and gyms that have closed [permanently] in the last 28 days. It's devastating," Kaluski said. "As businesses, we want to be healthy and we want to be safe, and there's a way to do it."
Etches said while the ultimate decision will rest with the province, everybody in the city will have a role to play in avoiding another wave of COVID-19, and more restrictions.
"It's up to all of us," she said. "If we can get business owners and others to call all of us to do our part, then that helps. If we limit our contact and our social gatherings where we're in close contact with people without masks, then we'll be able to access more services."