More types of businesses will be able to reopen in lockdown zones such as Windsor-Essex as part of a gradual lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in Ontario, the premier announced on Monday.
Windsor-Essex and 27 other health regions will stay under the stay-at-home order until at least Feb. 16, at which point each region will be modified based on its local COVID-19 case counts.
"Today we're seeing some sunlight through the clouds," Premier Doug Ford said at the news conference, adding that the challenge is far from over.
The province is changing the rules for regions in lockdown so that nearly all types of retail businesses can reopen, but at 25 per cent capacity. It's not clear when that change will take place or whether it will coincide with the expiration of the stay-at-home order.
Capacity at supermarkets, convenience stores and pharmacies remains capped at 50 per cent.
The possibility of reopening sometime soon has local business owners hopeful that the situation is starting to look up.
"It's great news, since this lockup we are really closed, there's no business, very very hard for us to do much of the stuff," said T-Shirt Company of Windsor owner Mohammad Alvi.
Despite a capacity limit, Alvi said it's "better than nothing."
Trish Austin, co-owner of Xtra Nail Bar in Windsor, agreed. While she won't be able to provide services, she said opening up her retail section might encourage future business.
"Being able to have people within the walls opens us up to be able to meet our clients again and make appointments for when we can open for the personal services," she said.
In a statement Monday, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens responded to the new rules encouraging residents to still follow public health guidance to ensure numbers continue to trend down.
"I want to urge every resident to continue to adhere to all public health recommendations and continue to drive down our pandemic-related indicators, so that the next time the provincial government seeks to reassess our region, we will be considered for further careful reopening," Dilkens said.
Previously, non-essential retail businesses were ordered to close, prompting criticism from many in the business community that the rules were unfair.
Windsor-Essex has been in the grey lockdown zone, the highest tier of the province's COVID-19 measures framework, since mid-December.
In the coming weeks, the province will progressively move more regions into an appropriate level in the colour-coded system, which includes the green, yellow, orange, red and grey lockdown stages.
For now, three public health units in Eastern Ontario will move to the green level while the rest of the province will stay in the grey stage.
The provincial plan has what officials are calling an "emergency brake" if COVID-19 bounces back in a particular region.
The chief medical officer of health, in consultation with local health officials, can advise a return to lockdown.
'We all have a responsibility'
Dr. Wajid Ahmed, the region's top public health official, said earlier on Monday that he doesn't know what will change for Windsor-Essex after the province makes its announcement.
But his message for the public remains the same: Don't let your guard down.
"I want to be absolutely clear that despite whatever recommendations come from the province, we as individuals, we as businesses, we as community members, we all have a responsibility to follow these measures, because that's the only way we can keep everyone safe," he said at a media briefing on Monday.
Ahmed said he would be looking at the premier's expected announcement and seeing if there are any other restrictions needed to prevent cases from skyrocketing once again.
There are currently fewer than 400 active COVID-19 cases within Windsor-Essex. The active case count peaked at about 2,800 active cases in mid-January.
Despite the decrease in cases, the death toll has continued to rise. Last month, 179 Windsor-Essex residents died due to COVID-19, more fatalities than had occurred in all of 2020.