TORONTO — Ontarians will be able to go shopping, play golf or tennis, and get their dogs groomed — but not visit family — starting next week as stage one of the province’s reopening kicks in, Premier Doug Ford announced Thursday.
Tuesday will mark the beginning of the province’s first recovery stage, which also includes the resumption of some surgeries, as the numbers of new COVID-19 cases in Ontario continue to drop.
“We need to keep in mind that all of this is dependent on the numbers,” Premier Doug Ford said.
“The truth is we can’t fully predict where things will go, so we need to be ready to react if we see a sudden increase in cases. We cannot let our guard down now. We must watch the trends like a hawk.”
Ontario officials are still advising working from home as much as possible. Ford said provisions enacted in March to ban employers from requiring sick notes for those in self-isolation or quarantine and ensure protected leave for workers who have to take unpaid time off for those reasons will stay in place during all of Ontario’s recovery stages.
Although stage one will allow in-store shopping, golf games and for house cleaners and babysitters to work in people’s homes, provincial guidance to stay two metres away from anyone outside people’s immediate household is still in place.
Ford, who was criticized after he revealed he had two daughters over to his home contrary to the official advice, said he knows people are desperate to see family.
“I know I had one of my daughters over, or two, and I got in trouble for that, but for months we never saw them,” he said.
“I understand the pain you’re going through, your family’s going through, and other families are going through and I just ask, just hang in there a little bit longer and we’ll get through it.”
Health Minister Christine Elliott said officials have been discussing the concept of two-household bubbles, as other provinces are using, and Finance Minister Rod Phillips said updates on gatherings, school and child-care centres will come next week.
The health team is also looking closely at current restrictions on religious ceremonies, Elliott said.
Though stage one begins Tuesday, a few measures will be loosened over the weekend. On Saturday, golf courses can reopen though clubhouses can only open for washrooms and take-out food. Marinas, boat clubs and public boat launches can open Saturday, as can private parks and campgrounds for trailers and RVs whose owners have a full season contract, and businesses that board animals.
All construction can resume Tuesday and limits will be lifted on maintenance, repair and property management services, such as cleaning, painting, and pool maintenance.
Most retail stores that have a street entrance can open with physical distancing restrictions, such as limits on the number of customers in a store to one customer per four square metres, only using fitting rooms with doors — not curtains — to allow for better disinfecting, booking appointments and continuing to provide curbside pickup and delivery.
Golf driving ranges and tennis courts will be able to reopen Tuesday, and sports that can be played with physical distancing will be allowed, including water sports on outdoor bodies of water — no swimming pool sports — such as rowing and sailing, badminton, track and field, gymnastics, figure skating, fencing, rock climbing, and horse racing.
Individual sports that are high contact still won’t be allowed, including racquetball, squash, boxing, wrestling and martial arts.
Some scheduled surgeries will restart, as well as in-person counselling such as psychology or addictions counselling.
Ontario’s recently released framework for resuming surgeries has left decisions on elective and scheduled surgeries up to hospitals, but said they should be in a community with a manageable and stable level of COVID-19, have adequate personal protective equipment and medication, and have enough inpatient and intensive care beds.
Some arts production that can’t be done remotely can resume, such as music studios, film and television post-production, animation studios, book and video game publishing.
In-home services such as housekeepers, cooks, maids, butlers, nannies, babysitters, cleaning, indoor or outdoor painting, window cleaning, pool cleaning, and general maintenance can also resume.
Other businesses and services included in the stage one reopening include vehicle dealerships and retailers, regular veterinary appointments, pet grooming, pet sitting and pet training; libraries for pickup or deliveries; and housekeepers and babysitters.
Ontario reported 258 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 33 more deaths.
That brings Ontario to a total of 21,494 cases, which is a 1.2 per cent increase over the previous day — the lowest growth rate since early March. The number of new cases is the lowest since late March.
The total includes 1,798 deaths and 16,204 cases that have been resolved, which is now more than 75 per cent of the total.
Nearly 17,500 tests for COVID-19 were completed in the previous day, as the province works toward a goal of processing 20,000 per day.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams is set to release expanded COVID-19 testing guidelines Thursday, which will say anyone with symptoms can be tested.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a tweet that doing so “will help identify and contain new cases and monitor any shifts in community spread to keep Ontarians safe.”
Ontario is also launching a workplace personal protective equipment directory, so businesses can find suppliers of the protective gear they will need as they reopen.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 14, 2020.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press