The Ontario government is gradually announcing the reopening of certain sectors of the economy as COVID-19 cases in the province trend downwards.
To know what is and isn’t allowed to reopen, it’s important to first know the method in which it will be done.
On Monday, Premier Doug Ford said Stay at Home orders will be implemented in 28 regions until February 16. And in two weeks, on February 22, they will end in Toronto, York, and Peel region.
Once the orders are lifted the province will gradually transition each region from the shutdown measures to a revised and updated COVID-19 Response Framework: Keeping Ontario Safe and Open.
The colour-coded framework includes five different zones: Green-Prevent, Yellow-Protect, Orange-Restrict, Red-Control, and Grey-Lockdown.
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Each of these colours directs the region in what can and cannot open, at the discretion of the local medical officer of health. However, each section operates with the assumption that all schools are open, which has already taken place in the province.
To help bring some clarity to the situation, here’s a breakdown of what is allowed to reopen in February so far.
Students in 13 regions went back to school on February 8. Students will return to school in Toronto, Peel and York, on February 16 after Family Day.
The province said there will be enhanced safety supports with mandatory mask-wearing, additional teacher hires, and screening measures. However, some teacher unions have said the province has still not implemented proper ventilation and HVAC systems and have not reduced cohort classroom sizes to 15 students.
Once the Stay at Home orders are lifted a region will be put into one of the colour-coded zones, which allows retail to reopen for every colour but with slightly different restrictions.
In-person shopping in Grey-Lockdown zones will now be limited to 25% capacity in most retail settings, and stores must post their capacity limit publicly. Grocery stores will stay the same at 50% capacity.
Grey zone curbside pick-up and delivery are permitted.
Stores must have passive screening for patrons such as signs posted outside the storefront about not entering if they have
However, this does not apply to indoor malls, which will have to conduct screening in accordance with instructions by the office of the chief medical officer of health.
Individuals must physically distance and wear a face covering, with some exceptions.
“No loitering in shopping malls, and stores within the malls [are] subject to appropriate retail measures,” the province added.
The same applies to the Red-Control zone, but there can be 75% capacity for convenience stores, pharmacies, supermarkets, and other stores that primarily sell groceries.
For all other retail, a 50% capacity is mandated. This includes but is not limited to discount and big-box retailers, liquor stores, hardware stores and garden centres.
For the other three zones, Green, Yellow, and Orange, the rules have been updated so that stores must have passive screening for patrons. This will not apply to indoor malls, which will have to conduct screening in accordance with instructions by the office of the chief medical officer of health.
When other businesses can reopen
Ontario’s top doctor said that businesses would likely remain locked down until ICU numbers drop by more than half of the current levels. Because of this, Dr. David Williams said that easing restrictions on businesses will take longer.
Last week, Williams said that ICUs need to have below 150 patients in order for hospitals to resume other medical care, and therefore relieve the healthcare system.
“The numbers are not low enough to say the hospitals are out of the heat. They’re not. They’re in the thick of it,” he said during a press conference.
“I can’t tell you how it’s going to go. There’s a lot of things in play.”
The Chief Medical Officer of Health also said the new variants from the UK, South Africa, and Brazil would also affect reopening, as they have higher transmission rates.
He repeated that daily case counts must be below 1,000 for restrictions to be lifted.
Williams also said that if restrictions are lifted too soon, it will cause infection rates to increase again, “we don’t want to open up and then just crash and load back up again.”