TORONTO — Premier Doug Ford will announce details on reopening Ontario's economy next week, the labour minister said Friday as the government debated whether or not to extend the province's state of emergency.
Monte McNaughton did not provide further specifics but his comments came before Ford and his cabinet were to meet to discuss the emergency order set to expire on Tuesday.
"We're moving toward reopening the economy and the premier is going to further communicate that next week," McNaughton said. "We're moving in the right direction."
Ontario’s Solicitor General’s office said no decisions have been made regarding whether to end or extend the emergency order.
A provincial lockdown was imposed in late December and was followed by the state of emergency and a stay-at-home order that took effect Jan. 14 as COVID-19 rates surged.
While cases have since declined, public health officials have said the spread of more contagious variants of COVID-19 are a concern.
Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, has said he would like to see daily cases drop below 1,000 and the number of patients with COVID-19 in hospital intensive care units below 150 before lifting restrictions.
"It is achievable, we can get back there," Williams said in mid-January.
Ontario reported 1,670 cases of COVID-19 on Friday, although 125 of them were older infections from Toronto that weren't previously recorded by the province.
Public health officials noted that updates to the provincial case database were causing fluctuations in this week's tallies.
The province also said Friday that there are 325 patients with COVID-19 in hospital intensive care units, with 225 on ventilators.
Ontario reported 45 deaths linked to the virus on Friday. A total of 6,438 Ontarians have died from the novel coronavirus.
The president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said Friday that he's optimistic the province will soon begin to lift some restrictions on businesses.
Dan Kelly said he hopes Ford will announce concrete reopening dates that throw a lifeline to small businesses that have suffered under pandemic restrictions.
"We desperately need a clear indication, and a plan, to reopen our economy," he said.
Kelly said he doesn't expect the province will lift all of its public health measures, but would like to see all businesses allowed to open across Ontario with a 20 per cent capacity limit.
That could increase if case counts continue to come down, he added.
"We have recommended not to end all restrictions, but to replace them with a pathway that would allow businesses to reopen with masking and physical distancing ... so they can live another day," he said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Friday that the government has not moved quickly enough to address the pandemic in long-term care and schools, or provided paid sick days for workers.
"If the orders are extended it will be because Doug Ford didn't do his job and hasn't been responding adequately to the crisis of COVID-19 since day one," she said.
Ontario's lockdown banned indoor gatherings, closed all but essential stores to in-person shopping, shuttered restaurant dining rooms and closed gyms and salons, among other things.
The stay-at-home that was imposed in January requires people to keep to their homes except for essential activities such as accessing health care, shopping for groceries, or outdoor exercise.
The province did not provide a set definition for what is "essential," saying everyone has their own unique circumstances and regional considerations.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2021.
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press