TORONTO – Nearly a month after a province-wide Stay-at-Home order was put into place, many regions will begin to reopen next Wednesday, February 17th. Ontario Premier Doug Ford made the announcement Monday.
“Staying home is saving lives,” Ford said during the announcement. “My friends we are not clear of this storm yet.”
Three areas of the province – including Kingston, Belleville, Trenton, and Renfrew – are being allowed by the government to begin reopening February 10th. Those areas have the lowest current statistics for COVID-19 infections and would be at the Green-Prevent restriction level if the lockdown order was not already in place.
The Stay-at-Home order that was set to expire at 11:59 p.m. February 9th is extended for seven further days and now ends February 16th.
Other areas of the province, including the Eastern Ontario Health Unit region will be allowed to begin reopening February 17th. Excluded from that are Toronto, Peel and York regions. Those three are set to begin reopening a week later on February 24th unless infection numbers reverse course.
“Our number one priority will always be protecting the health and safety of all individuals, families and workers across the province,” Ford said.
Travel between regions is being strongly discouraged by Stay-at-Home orders which expire in different steps.
The announced reopening plan includes new changes to restrictions under the provincial colour-coded COVID-19 restrictions framework, and an emergency brake if any of the variants of the virus take hold in a community.
“As we cautiously and gradually transition out of the provincewide shutdown, we have developed an emergency brake system giving us the flexibility to contain community spread quickly in a specific region, providing an extra layer of protection,” said Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott.
The emergency brake will enable the Chief Medical Officer of Health for the province, and a region’s health unit to decide if immediate closures are required to stop the U.K., South African, or Brazilian strains of the Novel Coronavirus. Should this happen, a health unit region can be placed into the Grey-Lockdown restrictions in the framework.
The Stay-at-Home order may be extended for another week, but the State of Emergency order issued on February 11th expired Tuesday. Compliance orders for retirement homes, the moratorium on rental evictions, and discounted electricity rates are all being extended until at least February 23rd.
Changes to the colour-coded framework will allow for more retail businesses to remain open if lockdown measures are required again.
The Grey-Lockdown measure will allow for retail businesses to open with severe capacity limitations. Stores that sell groceries or pharmaceuticals as their primary business will be allowed 25 per cent of its store occupancy as a limit.
Reopening businesses does not mean easing of many of the restrictions or public health guidance. Mask wearing is still required indoors, physical distancing, and enhanced sanitizing protocols are still in force.
“This is not a re-opening or a ‘return to normal’ and we must continue to limit close contact to our immediate households and stay at home except for essential reasons,” said Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health for the province. “By continuing to follow all public health and workplace safety measures, we can continue to reduce the number of new cases and the strain on our health system.”
COVID-19 infections in the province have dropped to an average of about 1,500 new cases per day, down from 4,249 cases per day on January 9th.
Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leader