Ontario doubling limit on gatherings, more businesses to reopen in next stage of COVID-19 recovery plan

Ontarians will soon be allowed to gather in groups of up to 10 and many more businesses and services will be allowed to begin operating again as part of the next stage of the province’s regional reopening, set to begin in some areas later this week.

Premier Doug Ford outlined the details of Stage 2 of Ontario’s plan to lift restrictions on its lockdown, implemented to help curb the spread of COVID-19, at his daily briefing Monday afternoon.

  • You can read the government’s full Stage 2 plan at the bottom of this story.

“I know that staying apart from our friends and loved ones has been one of the hardest parts of the last few months,” Ford said.

“Hopefully, today’s announcement will bring some relief.” 

Twenty-four of Ontario’s 34 public health units will be allowed to move into Stage 2 on Friday. The remaining 10, concentrated primarily in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) and near the U.S.-Canada border, will need to wait until new daily case numbers consistently decrease. 

This map shows the public health regions in Ontario that will be allowed to move into the next stage of reopening on Friday. (Government of Ontario)

In addition to increasing the size of social gatherings from five to 10, the government says places of worship will be able to welcome congregants again with a 30 per cent capacity limit. Both changes also take effect on Friday throughout the province, regardless of public health unit. 

In areas allowed to move into the next stage, restaurants, bars and food trucks will be able to open for outdoor dining on patios and in parking lots or adjacent premises. The province is allowing licensed establishments to set up or expand their outdoor eating spaces without an application fee to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. 

Attorney General Doug Downey said the move will give the hospitality sector more tools to be able to recover, and will help ensure physical distancing. The measures for patios will still be subject to municipal approval and will be in place until Jan. 1. The new or expanded patios will have to be adjacent to the bar or restaurant and the capacity doesn’t exceed 1.11 square metres per person.

Here is a list of businesses and services allowed to reopen in regions entering Stage 2: 

  • Select personal and personal care services with the proper health and safety measures in place, including tattoo parlours, barber shops, hair salons and beauty salons.
  • Shopping malls under existing restrictions, including food services reopening for takeout and outdoor dining only.
  • Tour and guide services, such as biking and walking, bus and boat tours, as well as tastings and tours for wineries, breweries and distilleries.
  • Water recreational facilities such as outdoor splash pads and wading pools, and all swimming pools,
  • Beach access and additional camping at Ontario Parks.
  • Camping at private campgrounds.
  • Outdoor-only recreational facilities and training for outdoor team sports, with limits to enable physical distancing.
  • Drive-in and drive-thru venues for theatres, concerts, animal attractions and cultural appreciation, such as art installations.
  • Film and television production activities, with limits to enable physical distancing.
  • Weddings and funerals, with limits on social gatherings to 10 people.

Child-care services will shift away from providing solely emergency services throughout the province, regardless of which stage each region is in, allowing for a gradual reopening of regular service. The province says there will be a limit on operational capacity and other strict public health measures that will need to stay in place.

Ford said more information will be announced on Tuesday.

GTA, border regions excluded from Stage 2 for now

Ten regions will not be able to move into Stage 2 on Friday but the province says that this decision will be reviewed weekly. 

“For the regions that must wait a little longer, I ask you: please remain patient,” Ford said. “We will get there soon.”

WATCH | Health Minister Christine Elliott on why the province is taking a regional approach to reopening:

Ten regions will not be able to move into Stage 2 on Friday but the province says that this decision will be reviewed on a weekly basis. 1:11

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams mirrored those sentiments at a briefing on Monday, saying if the remaining regions’ numbers decrease consistently, they could be able to enter Stage 2 in “a week or two weeks time.”

The regions that will not move onto Stage 2 are Durham, York, Toronto, Peel, Halton, Hamilton and Niagara, border regions Windsor-Essex and Lambton, as well as Haldimand-Norfolk, which has seen an outbreak among migrant workers.

The government is hoping to further discuss the possibility of Ontarians expanding their “social bubbles,” Williams said.

“We’re looking forward to how we may be able to have some further discussions on the Ontario version of bubbling or cohorting, as we call it, in the very near future,” he said. 

Williams said not only does expanding ones social bubble help with mental health and isolation during the pandemic, but it would also be valuable for maintaining good contact case management. Those who are “bubbling” will have a clear sense of who their contacts are and will help assist public health units in their response. 

Reopening should be coupled with testing, expert says

Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, says reopening parts of the economy needs to be coupled with testing. 

“I haven’t heard about how testing will be ramped up to support this. All fine and good to open up but you need to accompany it with testing,” he said

“Ontario doesn’t have the capacity it needs to do that.”

Meanwhile, the province’s network of labs processed 15,357 tests, below the benchmark of 16,000. Test numbers have typically dropped on Sundays throughout the pandemic period. The backlog of tests waiting to be processed sits at 4,811. 

Testing volumes have been ramping up in the past week, with the province processing 19,000 tests a day on average. 

“What is encouraging is that while the number of tests is increasing, we are not seeing the number of new cases rising at the same rate,” said the province’s Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe.

243 new COVID-19 cases

Ontario has reported 243 additional cases of COVID-19 on Monday, 

The 0.8 per cent jump brings the total number of cases in Ontario to 30,860 since the outbreak began in January. Around 79.4 per cent of all cases are now resolved.

Dr. Williams and Dr.Yaffe both say the trending numbers look “encouraging.”

“In the past two days we’ve seen some of the lowest increases that we’ve seen in a long time,” Yaffe said at a news conference on Monday. 

The new cases come after just 192 were confirmed on Sunday, though the Ministry of Health added 223 that were impacted by a delay in reporting to the day’s count. 

Eighteen of the province’s 34 public health units reported no new cases today, while 10 more reported fewer than five. More than two-thirds of active COVID-19 cases are concentrated in the Greater Toronto Area. 

Ontario’s official COVID-19 death toll increased by 24 and currently sits at 2,450. A CBC News count based on data from regional public health units puts the real toll at 2,508 as of Monday afternoon.

Province finalizing visitors policy for long-term care homes

A total of 312 outbreaks have been reported in long-term care homes, which is an increase of one outbreak from the previous report. Long-term care residents make up just over 64 per cent of all COVID-19-related deaths.

Yaffe said they are seeing encouraging trends at long-term care homes, saying the number of outbreaks and active cases have been steadily decreasing. 

“We are now working very hard to finalize a visitor policy for long-term care homes, which I think will be a very welcome thing, both for the residents and for their families,” Yaffe said.

Province to implement commercial eviction ban

During the briefing, Ford announced that Ontario will ban commercial evictions starting June 3 until the end of August as business owners struggle with the fallout of the pandemic.

Ford said the moratorium applies to small businesses who qualify for the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program, where their revenues have dropped at least 70 per cent due to the pandemic.

Ontario joins British Columbia, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia as provinces that have implemented some form of a commercial eviction ban.

Last month, five business groups co-signed an open letter calling for the Ontario government to impose a commercial eviction moratorium during the pandemic, warning that many small- and medium-sized businesses were at risk of closing as June rent came due.

The organizations included the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association, Restaurants Canada and the Retail Council of Canada.

Ford had previously resisted a push from groups representing small business owners for a temporary ban, instead appealing on several occasions for landlords to “have a heart” and allow for grace periods on rent fees.

On Monday, Ford said some landlords have not been listening to his appeal, prompting the province to order this legislation.

“Our small business owners are the backbone of our communities and now more than ever, we all need to support them,” Ford said. 

Here’s the full document outlining the government’s Stage 2 plan

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