A slew of businesses in Ontario—including some retail stores, recreation and sport facilities, and professional workplaces—are set to reopen on Tuesday after a months-long shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced his intention to move forward with his plan to jumpstart the economy, which has largely been in lockdown since he declared a state of emergency in mid-March.
The province will enter the first stage of the “restart phase” of reopening, as outlined in the Progressive Conservative’s “Framework for Reopening our Province,” on Tuesday, although some businesses have already opened their doors. A number of seasonal recreational facilities, such as golf courses, marinas and private parks, opened up over the long weekend, giving Ontarians the opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy recreational activities.
The premier previously said he was being lobbied by golfers who felt like the sport naturally lends itself to physical distancing. The courses are now open but golfers need to sign up for a tee time online and adhere to public health measures put in place. While Ford has repeatedly said he is confident the province is ready to move forward with reopening businesses, Ontario health officials appear to be less enthusiastic.
Speaking just hours after Ford announced his plan to move forward with stage one of reopening the economy last week, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Williams said that while the province is at “day seven or day eight of a downward trend,” he was not convinced the province was ready for the first stage of the “restart phase.”
“I would have recommended it if we were already there but we haven’t (got there) yet,” Williams said last Tuesday. “We’re in a downward trend … unfortunately not a very rapid downward trend but is trending that way and our other metrics are looking good.”
Williams has previously said he would like to see a steady decline of community-transmitted cases over a two-week period before moving forward. It is not clear where Ontario stands in terms of community transmitted cases as of Monday.
The number of COVID-19 cases reported daily by health officials has fluctuated all week, falling as low as 294 patients and jumping as high as 391 new patients. Here’s a list of what’s reopening on May 19 and the types of public health measures Ontarians can expect to see when they venture outside.
What’s reopening on Tuesday?
- All construction and essential workplace limits lifted, includes land surveyors.
- In addition to retail operating online, or with curbside pickup and delivery, all retail stores with a street entrance can open with limited capacity
- Vehicle dealerships and retailers
- Office-based media operations involving equipment that does not allow for remote working.
- Non-emergency diagnostic imaging and surgeries in public hospitals, private hospitals and independent health facilities, clinics, and private practices to resume based on ability to meet specified pre-conditions.
- Certain health and medical services, such as in-person counselling and scheduled surgeries based on the ability to meet pre-specified conditions.
- Libraries for pick-up or delivery
- Outdoor recreational amenities such as marinas
- Outdoor recreational sports centres for sports not played in teams, with limited access to facilities. This includes tennis courts, rod and gun clubs, cycling tracks, horse riding facilities and indoor golf driving ranges.
- Professional and amateur sport activity for individual/single competitors, including training and competition.
- Professional services related to conducting research and experimental development in physical, engineering and life sciences including electronics, computers, chemistry, oceanography, geology, mathematics, physics, environmental, medicine, health, biology, botany, biotechnology, agriculture, fisheries, forestry, pharmacy, veterinary and other allied subjects.
- All emissions inspection facilities for heavy diesel commercial motor vehicles, including mobile inspection facilities.
- Veterinary services by appointment and animal services such as grooming and training.
- Private households could now employ workers on or about the premises in activities primarily concerned with the operation of the household, including cleaners, cooks and nanny services.
- General maintenance, and repair services
What are the public health measures?
Businesses that do choose to reopen will be expected to follow strict public health measures to help prevent a second wave of COVID-19. Last month, the province released sector-specific guidelines on how to keep customers and employees safe. Here are some of the public measures officials are asking places of employment to take if they decide to reopen:
- Provide online ordering, delivery, or curbside pickup if possible
- Eliminate at-the-door payment methods for delivery
- Provide training on how to keep cash registers, other equipment clean
- Retailers would need to restrict the number of customers per square metre to ensure physical distancing of 2 metres at all times.
- Only fitting rooms with doors would be used, not curtains, to facilitate disinfecting. Retailers will need to restrict use to every second fitting room at any one time to allow for cleaning after use and ensure physical distancing.
- Manage traffic flow with floor markings and barriers
- Discourage sharing of telephones, keyboards, desks or workstations
- Develop systems to conduct work away from the office. If direct client contact is essential and cannot be avoided, then staff should consider using personal protective equipment
- Provide easy access to soap and water.
- Postpone non-essential face-to-face appointments or convert to virtual/video appointments
- Stagger start times and breaks
- Reposition workstations to increase physical distances or install barriers and partitions
- Employers at construction sites should plan for enough tools to be on site so workers don’t have to share
- Construction workers should place work clothes into a bag before taking home to wash
- Have appropriate number of toilets and clean-up facilities
All sector-specific guidelines are available here.
Diane J. Brisebois, the president and CEO of the Retail Council of Canada, told CP24 on Monday that many store owners are adapting their services in order to provide a safe environment for customers. This includes installing Plexiglas in front of their cash areas and customer service counters, requiring customers to wear masks and changing the layout of their stores.
“(We don’t have) answers to all of the questions yet. It will be adapting and finding out what customers are more comfortable with,” she said. “I think retailers are very good at adapting.”
Brisbois added that customers should not expect to see any big sales or promotions.
“From what we’ve heard from our merchants, they are going to take it slowly. We would be surprised if there are flash sales. They know that they not only need to limit the number of people in their store but also ensure that if there are lineups, that those lineups are manageable.”
What’s next for Ontario?
The province has said that each of the three stages in the “restart phase” of reopening will be monitored for two to four weeks to ensure it is safe to proceed. In stage two, Ontario would open even more workplaces, outdoor spaces and allow larger gatherings. When the province reaches stage three, the government will relax restrictions further on public gatherings and open all workplaces.
However, the Progressive Conservative government has hinted that they won’t be waiting until the next stage of the reopening plan to allow more people to gather together. Ahead of the weekend, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province will be “studying very closely” the idea of increasing the current social gathering limitations this week.
In March, the Ontario government made gatherings of more than five people, with the exception of those who live together, illegal. The order still remains in place. The current guidelines also say that people shouldn’t meet up with others outside of their household unit. Elliott said that people will soon want to “get together for barbeques and other occasions” and that the government is looking for the safest way to allow for that.
“I know people are wanting to spend more time with family and friends, so the chief medical officer of health is giving that very serious consideration,” she told reporters on Friday. “You can expect to hear from us, I would expect, next week on that issue.”
Large gatherings such as concerts and sporting events are not expected to return for “the foreseeable future.”