The Government of Ontario announced Wednesday that they are getting ready to take another small step to re-opening the provincial economy. According to the Premier and his cabinet, the sacrifices of stay-at-home orders and social distancing have allowed them to start to ease restrictions, even though they’re also extending the state of emergency that was initiated way back on March 17.
Starting on Friday, garden stores and nurseries will be allowed be open for in-store purchases, following the same guidelines that currently govern grocery stores, pharmacies, and other other essential retail businesses. Hardware and safety supply stores could be open again for in-store purchases as early as Saturday, and retail stores with a street entrance can begin offering curbside pick-up and deliver on Monday.
“We haven’t been sitting on our hands. Whether it’s releasing our framework for reopening or putting in place the workplace safety guidelines needed to help businesses adapt to the new environment, we’ve been laying the groundwork for the safe, measured, and gradual reopening of our province,” said Premier Doug Ford in a statement. “As the trends improve, we can move forward with reopening more and more of our economy and getting people back to work.”
All businesses must follow the Health and Safety Guidance Documents for Workplaces, which includes social distancing, sanitizing surfaces, installing physical barriers, staggering shifts, and using contactless payment like Interac tap.
“It’s due to the progress we have made collectively to slow the spread of COVID-19 that we are able to see a gradual easing of restrictions, allowing certain businesses to reopen safely,” said Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade Vic Fedeli. “During this period, we must move cautiously and strike the right balance between getting people back to work and preventing further outbreaks. Protecting the safety of staff, customers and the general public is our number one priority.”
At the same time that the Government announced these new looser regulations, they also extended the state of emergency by an extra week till May 19. The Ontario Legislature last voted to extend the provincial emergency until May 12 in its April 14 sitting, but outside of an act of the legislature, the government can only push back the deadline two weeks at a time.
Along with the extension of the state of emergency, the Ontario government has also extended the order for utility companies to set hydro rates at off-peak hours. The current rates were set to expire at the end of the week, as the rate relief was approved for only a 45-day period starting on March 24.
“During this extraordinary period, many people are struggling to pay the bills as they do the right thing by staying at home, as well as our farmers and those whose businesses have closed or suffered reduced customer traffic,” said Ford in a statement.
“Although we are making progress in our fight against this COVID-19 outbreak, we are not out of the woods yet,” the Premier added. “The extension of this electricity rate relief will leave more money in people’s pockets until businesses can start to reopen and people can get back to work.”