Ontario announced small steps Wednesday toward reopening the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic as the growth in new cases slows, including allowing retail stores to open for curbside pickup.
Premier Doug Ford said with the numbers heading in the right direction, the government has been working around the clock to make sure restrictions can be lifted safely.
"Any reopening of our economy will be gradual, measured and safe," he said. "When it comes to reopening our economy, I'd rather be safe than sorry."
All retail stores with a street entrance will be allowed to open Monday, May 11, to provide curbside pickup and delivery. Garden centres and nurseries – which had been cleared to open this Monday for curbside pickup or delivery only – will be allowed to open their stores Friday. Hardware stores and safety supply stores can do the same as of Saturday.
Businesses that can now open their doors to customers will have to follow the same guidelines as grocery stores and pharmacies currently do, including promoting physical distancing and frequent hand-washing, sanitizing surfaces, installing physical barriers, staggering shifts and offering contactless payment.
The province is not yet at the point of entering the first stage of its reopening framework, which – in addition to allowing workplaces that can modify operations to reopen – would see the opening of parks, allowing for more people at certain events such as funerals, and having hospitals resume some non-urgent surgeries.
Before Ontario can happen, the chief medical officer of health is looking for a consistent, two-to-four week decrease in the number of new cases.
Ontario also extended its emergency orders Wednesday, which include the continued closure of non-essential businesses, as the province reported 412 new cases of COVID-19 and 68 more deaths.
The province also renewed lower electricity rates for residential consumers, farms and small businesses to the end of the month. An initial order from March for off-peak rates to be charged all day had been set to expire this week.
The emergency orders, which were set to expire Wednesday, have now been extended for another two weeks, to May 19.
They also include a prohibition of public gatherings of more than five people, the closure of bars and restaurants except for take-out and delivery, libraries, theatres and concert venues, outdoor amenities such as playgrounds, and child care centres.
The province has separately announced that publicly funded schools will be closed until at least May 31.
Ontario's overall declaration of a state of emergency was extended last month to May 12.
Meanwhile, the LCBO announced that it is expanding store hours that were reduced in March, rolling out the earlier opening and later closing times in stages until they apply to all stores in the first week of June.
As of Wednesday, Ontario had seen 18,722 cases of COVID-19, including 1,429 deaths and 13,222 ones that have been resolved – more than 70 per cent of all cases.
The new case total represents a 2.3 per cent increase over Tuesday's total, representing a relatively stable growth rate over the past several days.
The numbers of people in hospital and in intensive care units decreased Wednesday – 1,032 and 219 respectively – but the number of people on ventilators rose from 166 to 174.
Fewer than 13,000 tests were completed during the previous day, even though the province had said it would be doing 16,000 tests a day by now.