Premier Doug Ford has announced Ontario's first stage of economic recovery, which includes the resumption of construction projects and the reopening of some workplaces, as the province reported its lowest increase in new cases since March.
The government said if the trends in key public health indicators continue to improve, the province's first official state of reopening will begin next week and will include permitting retailers, seasonal businesses, and health and community service providers to open or expand their services.
While some argue it's too soon to begin reopening the province, Ford did emphasize that only businesses that are ready and feel comfortable reopening should.
“Thanks to our collective efforts we are prepared for the next stage of reopening the economy,” the premier said. “We are getting thousands of people back to work. We have the framework, safety guidelines and capacity in our healthcare system.”
The government said if daily COVID trends continue to improve, on Tuesday, May 19, the province will officially enter Stage 1 in the reopening of the province.
Retail services that are not in shopping malls and have separate street-front entrances with measures in place that can enable physical distancing, such as limiting the number of customers in the store at any one time and booking appointments beforehand or on the spot will be able to open.
Animal services, specifically pet care services, such as grooming and training, and regular veterinary appointments can resume, as will indoor and outdoor household services that can follow public health guidelines, such as housekeepers, cooks, cleaning and maintenance.
Stage 1 also includes lifting all essential workplace limits on construction.
Seasonal businesses and recreational activities for individual or single competitors, including training and sport competitions conducted by a recognized national or provincial sport organization can also resume. This includes indoor and outdoor non-team sport competitions that can be played while maintaining physical distancing and without spectators, such as tennis, track and field, and horse racing.
Certain health and medical services will also be able to resume, such as in-person counselling and scheduled surgeries based on the ability to meet pre-specified conditions, as well as resuming professional services such as shifting Children's Treatment Centres from virtual to in-person.
"We are taking a cautious, practical and reasonable approach to restarting the economy, while maintaining the health and safety of the people of Ontario as our top priority," said Minister of Finance, Rod Phillips during Thursday's COVID briefing. "This will allow Ontario to emerge from this outbreak with a clear path to economic recovery that keeps people safe and healthy."
The Ford government also announced additional seasonal services and activities will be permitted to open as early as Saturday May 16, at 12:01 am, in time for the Victoria Day long weekend, as key public health indicators continue to show progress. This includes:
The government's announcement on Thursday is part of Stage 1 of Phase 2 of the framework for reopening the province — there are three stages in this phase.
The framework, which was announced last month, will be overseen by public health officials who will carefully monitor each stage for two to four weeks, as they assess the evolution of the COVID-19 outbreak to determine if it is necessary to change course to maintain public health before moving to the next one.
This announcement comes as Ontario reported 258 new cases as of Thursday morning, marking the lowest number of new cases since March.