Ontario will begin to gradually reopen its economy next week, except in the GTA where stay-at-home orders will be extended for an additional week.
Premier Doug Ford is expected to announce Monday that the state of emergency declared last month will be allowed to expire as scheduled on Feb. 9, government sources tell 680 NEWS and The Canadian Press.
According to the plan, the province will have an “emergency brake” in place to allow the government to quickly move a region into lockdown if it “experiences a rapid acceleration in COVID-19 transmission or if the health-care system becomes overwhelmed.”
The measure is meant to help deal with the risk posed by new variants of COVID-19, said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly.
The current stay-at-home order will remain in place in much of the province until each region transitions back into a colour-coded framework that allows the province to rank health units based on case numbers and trends.
NEW – The Ontario government is considering extending the stay-a-home order, sources tells 680NEWS. Premier Ford and his cabinet discussed the possibility of extending the order for an additional week, and for longer in hotspots. Its not clear what if any decision was made.
— Richard Southern (@richard680news) February 5, 2021
Health units in Hastings Prince Edward, Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington, Renfrew County, and Timiskaming are expected to move into the least-restrictive green zone on Wednesday, which means restaurants and non-essential businesses can reopen.
On the week of Feb. 15, all remaining regions except three hot spots in the Greater Toronto Area are set to move to the framework based on their local case rates.
Toronto, Peel Region and York Region are expected to be the last to make that transition on the week of Feb. 22, but the source said any sudden increase in cases could delay that plan.
Ontario’s labour minister confirmed Ford will announce details on reopening Ontario’s economy next week.
Monte McNaughton made the comments on Friday, saying, “…We’re moving in the right direction, I just urge everyone to continue working together.”
McNaughton wouldn’t specify which day Ford could expand on these details.
“Our goal is to open up the economy safely, I know a couple of the hot zones might be a week later. But, especially in the northern and rural areas, we want to get the economy opening up, but safely. That’s the number one priority,” said Ford on Wednesday.
The province has confirmed dozens of cases of the variant that first emerged in the UK and one of the variants that were first detected in South Africa, but all cases had previously been in southern regions.
The public health unit covering the Sudbury region said Friday it had confirmed one case of the UK strain.
Toronto, meantime, confirmed an additional 5 cases of new strains; four of which Toronto Public Health said are still being tested in the lab to identify which variant it is.
News of a future announcement comes as Statistics Canada revealed daunting numbers Friday, saying the economy lost 213,000 jobs in January as employment fell to the lowest level since August last year, wiping out the gains made in the fall.
The unemployment rate rose 0.6 percentage points to 9.4 percent, the highest rate since August.
The latest data from Ontario Public Health points to a decrease in daily COVID-19 case counts and rates per 100,000 population.
Despite a smaller time frame, workplace outbreaks are also on the decline across the province.
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, has said he would like to see daily case rates drop below 1,000 and the number of patients with COVID-19 in hospital intensive care units below 150 before lifting restrictions.
A provincial lockdown was imposed in late December and was followed by the state of emergency and a stay-at-home order that took effect Jan. 14 as COVID-19 rates surged.
On Wednesday, the Ford government and Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced that Ontario schools outside of COVID-19 hotspot regions Toronto, Peel, and York will welcome students back for in-person learning on Feb. 8.
Students in Toronto, Peel, and York will head back to the classroom after Family Day, on Feb. 16.
Dan Kelly, head of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), said the decision rubbed some Ontario small business owners the wrong way, who were under the impression that if schools can be deemed safe to reopen, why not businesses?
“Small businesses are hanging by a thread,” Kelly told 680 NEWS on Thursday. “They’re so weak that a strong wind could blow them down right now and every single day that they are prevented from serving a customer means fewer of them are going to make it across the COVID finish line.”
Ontario is reporting 1,670 cases of COVID-19 today but 125 of them are older infections from Toronto that weren’t previously recorded by the province.
Public health officials have said that updates to the provincial case database are causing fluctuations in this week’s tallies.
Ontario is also reporting 45 deaths linked to the virus.
With files from 680 NEWS business editor Richard Southern and The Canadian Press