Doug Ford says restaurants in many regions outside the GTA can reopen on Friday

Ontario is opening up after months being locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As first revealed by the Star, restaurants will be permitted to open Friday in regions of Ontario relatively unscathed by a virus that has killed 2,485 people in the province, two-thirds of them in long-term-care homes.

Outside the Greater Toronto Area, where coronavirus restrictions remain, that will allow “outdoor dine-in services at restaurants, bars and other establishments, including patios, curbside, parking lots and adjacent properties,” a move pushed by Progressive Conservative MPP Gila Martow (Thornhill).

Limits on social gatherings of those who do not live in the same household will be increased from five people to 10 people as of that day throughout the province, including in the GTA.

Premier Doug Ford, who imposed a state of emergency on March 17 that is on the books through June 30, will also allow hair salons, barber shops, beauty parlours and tattoo studios in many parts of Ontario to reopen then.

Each must take safety precautions and ensure physical distancing to protect staff and clients.

All swimming pools, water parks and splash pads can reopen, as can shopping mall food courts for takeout and outdoor dining. Indoor malls will also soon be open for business.

Beaches and camp sites will be open. Weddings and funerals can be held but with a limit of 10 people.

Ford said Monday he would have more details soon on child care and summer camps as well as on training centres.

“We are able to make this announcement today because of the extraordinary effort of our front-line workers and every other person in the province who helped to stop the spread of this deadly virus,” said Ford, noting Ontario has been in the first stage of reopening since May 19.

“Entering stage two means parts of the province will see more people back on the job and an opportunity to get back together with friends and family. Although this is extremely encouraging, I urge everyone to exercise caution and continue to follow public health advice as we are not out of the woods yet,” he said.

The premier is taking a regional approach with communities served by the following public health units opening as of Friday: Algoma; Brant County; Chatham-Kent; Eastern Ontario; Grey Bruce; Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge; Hastings Prince Edward; Huron Perth; Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington; Leeds Grenville and Lanark; Middlesex-London; North Bay-Parry Sound; Northwestern Ontario; Ottawa; Peterborough; Porcupine; Sudbury; Waterloo; Renfrew County; Simcoe-Muskoka; Southwestern Ontario; Thunder Bay; Timiskaming; and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph.

But other regions remain locked down in the first stage, including Toronto, Durham, Halton, Peel, York, Haldimand-Norfolk, Hamilton, Niagara and Windsor-Essex.

As Ford unveiled the second stage of Ontario’s reopening, he announced a ban on commercial evictions for June, July and August.

That’s part of a menu of good news Ford served up to a hospitality sector devastated by COVID-19.

The plan is for Ford to announce every Monday when an area can open the following Friday. That means the earliest GTA restaurants could open is June 19.

Queen’s Park is also loosening regulations for restaurant patios.

Attorney General Doug Downey on Monday said “the normal application process for adding or extending a patio will be waived for license holders.”

Conservative MPPs have privately told Ford they fear the economy is not opening up fast enough, especially in regions relatively unaffected by COVID-19.

Ontario is currently in stage one of its “framework for reopening the economy.” Since May 19, that has allowed stores with street entrances to reopen but limits gathers of groups to five or less unless they reside in the same household.

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The second stage begins later this week. In the third stage, all workplaces would be allowed to open.

Restrictions on public gatherings would be further relaxed. But large public gatherings such as concerts and sporting events would continue to be restricted for the foreseeable future.

Mayor John Tory applauded the Ford government for listening to GTA mayors, who warned that the region still has too many COVID-19 infections to risk further re-opening now.

“This is a responsible decision by provincial officials and recognizes that we must continue with this re-opening in a safe manner based on principles of public health,” Tory said.

Robert Benzie

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