Ontario to begin gradual reopening of economy Wednesday
Provincial state of emergency set to expire Feb. 9
By The Canadian Press
Health & Safety
By Shawn Jeffords
TORONTO — Ontario will begin to gradually reopen its economy on Wednesday but the government could use an “emergency brake” to move regions back into lockdown if cases spike.
Premier Doug Ford said Monday that a state of emergency will be allowed to expire as scheduled on Tuesday, but most regions will remain under a stay-at-home order until they transition back to the province’s colour-coded restrictions system.
Three regions where COVID-19 cases are low will move to the restrictions system on Wednesday, with the rest staggered over the coming weeks.
“Our No. 1 priority will always be protecting the health and safety of all individuals, families and workers across the province,” Ford said in a statement.
The province is also changing the rules for the strictest category of the restrictions system that will allow previously closed business to reopen with capacity limits of 25 per cent.
“We must also consider the severe impact COVID-19 is having on our businesses,” Ford said. “We are strengthening and adjusting the framework to allow more businesses to safely reopen.”
Some regions will reopen
Health units in Hastings Prince Edward, Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington, and Renfrew County will move into the least-restrictive green category on Wednesday, which means restaurants and non-essential businesses can reopen.
The Timiskaming Health Unit, which was initially also expected to move to the green category Wednesday, will be held back for a week since a COVID-19 variant was discovered in the region over the weekend, the province said.
On Feb. 15, all remaining regions except three hot spots in the Greater Toronto Area are set to move to the restrictions framework. The category they are placed in will depend on their local case rates.
Toronto, Peel Region and York Region are expected to be the last to make that transition on Feb. 22, but the province said any sudden increase in cases could delay that plan.
According to the plan, the province will have an “emergency brake” in place to allow the government to quickly move a region into lockdown if it experiences a rapid increase in cases or if its health-system becomes overwhelmed.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the measure is meant to help deal with the risk posed by new variants of COVID-19.
“As we cautiously transition out of the provincewide shutdown, we have developed an emergency brake system giving us the flexibility to contain community spread quickly in a specific region, providing an extra layer of protection,” she said in a statement.
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.
Ontario reported 1,265 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, and 33 new deaths due to the virus.
In total, 901 people are hospitalized in Ontario due to COVID-19, including 335 in intensive care, and 226 people are on ventilators.