Norfolk and Haldimand residents will have to wait a little bit longer before entering Stage 3 of the province’s re-opening plan.
The government announced Monday that Stage 3 of Ontario’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic starts Friday paving the way for areas outside of known virus hotspots to reopen more businesses.
Haldimand and Norfolk counties, which moved later into the second phase of reopening, are among 10 areas that will remain at Stage 2, at least for another week. It’s anticipated that the province will re-evaluate next Monday the status of Haldimand and Norfolk, along with other areas remaining in Stage 2, including Toronto, Hamilton, Niagara and Windsor Essex.
All other health units cleared to enter the next phase of economic recovery will see significant changes in everything from public gathering limits to the range of services available to local customers.
The rollout of Stage 3 resembles the transition to Stage 2, with only outbreak hotspots being held back. Ford said the government would provide updates each Monday as to when new regions may be able to enter the next phase of the recovery plan.
“We expect to be able to move into the next stage shortly, so long as we continue to see few new daily cases of COVID-19 in the community,” said Norfolk County Mayor Kristal Chopp, who is also chair of the Haldimand-Norfolk Board of Health.
“While we’re all very much looking forward to seeing more of our businesses permitted to re-open, this doesn’t mean that the pandemic is over. We must continue to be vigilant against the spread of the virus, and avoid undoing all the hard work we’ve done over the last four months.”
The mayors of Brantford and Brant County say they are pleased but ask residents to remain vigilant as their communities move ahead, along with most of the rest of the province, to Stage 3 of reopening.
“The premier’s announcement today is very good news for our community’s economy, as more businesses and services can now prepare to reopen and resume under the Stage 3 reopening framework guidelines,” said Brantford Mayor Kevin Davis.
“We’ve worked very hard in Brantford, all of us, to reach this milestone and to keep our region’s COVID-19 rate of transmission low. However, now that there will be more and expanded services and activities accessible to residents, it extremely important that all of us continue to be vigilant.
“The virus is still with us, and still a threat, so now is not the time to be complacent.”
Brant Mayor David Bailey said he is “cautiously excited” about Ontario’s expanded reopening plans.
“I think we’ve earned it. We’ve worked hard,” said Bailey. “I’m happy to see restaurants and other businesses will start making money again. It has been horrible to see people so stressed out financially.”
But Bailey said residents need to continue to adhere to health and safety requirements to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. He is also concerned about visitors coming in from outside the county, especially from communities that have higher numbers of COVID-19 cases.
“All day long we’ve asked people to come and shop here and eat here,” he said. “Now we have to hope we haven’t invited trouble.”
Jurisdictions in Stage 3 can hold indoor gatherings of up to 50 people, not including venue staff, while outdoor gatherings can now include as many as 100 people as long as physical distancing measures are in place.
“Today’s news is an important step forward,” Premier Doug Ford said at a news conference. “It’s an important step in getting life back to normal.”
Ford said the arrival of Stage 3 means most businesses will be allowed to resume operations at levels not seen since before the pandemic prompted wide-spread shutdowns in mid-March.
Restaurants, for instance, will be permitted to resume indoor service as long as tables are spaced two-metres apart to encourage physical distancing. Bars and nightclubs will be allowed to serve food and host live entertainment, but dancing will not be allowed indoors.
Fitness facilities, movie theatres, casinos, performance venues and conference centres are among the businesses given the green light to reopen with public health measures in place.
Personal care services, which largely resumed under Stage 2 last month, can expand to include facial contact — though saunas and steam rooms are still banned under the new rules.
A handful of services and business types remain banned under the relaxed regulations, including amusement and water parks, restaurant buffet service, overnight children’s camps and private karaoke rooms.
Ford said the move to Stage 3 was made possible by the continued decline in COVID-19 numbers across most of the province, noting 21 of the province’s 34 health units are reporting no new cases at all.
Meanwhile Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the province was planning to expand the number of children allowed in daycare centres effective July 27, though few details were immediately available.
Most of Ontario entered Stage 2 of reopening on June 12, with another seven regions following on June 19.
With files from Canadian Press