TORONTO — Premier Doug Ford teased good news on steps toward reopening for retail stores, parks, cottagers and people missing loved ones Monday, as long as the province’s COVID-19 numbers keep going down.
Ontario reported 370 new cases of COVID-19 Monday, bringing the provincial total 2.1 per cent higher than the previous day, part of a downward trend.
There were also 84 more deaths reported. Ontario has now seen 17,923 cases, including 1,300 deaths and 12,505 resolved cases — nearly 70 per cent of all of Ontario’s cases.
Hospitalizations, another key indicator, dropped, as did the number of people with COVID-19 in intensive care, while the number of patients on ventilators remained relatively stable.
Ford said that if the promising numbers continue, Ontario will be able to start reopening sooner rather than later.
“It gives us the confidence that we’re getting close to opening parks, that we’re getting close to opening retail for curbside pickup,” he said.
“It gives us confidence that we’re on the right track.”
Ford said retail should start getting ready now.
“No matter if it’s three weeks, four weeks, two weeks, whenever it is, start prepping, getting masks ready,” he said.
“It’s inevitable, if the numbers keep going down. We’re going to get the economy going based on health and science.”
Asked Monday about the possibility of bubbles, the concept of one household interacting with just one other household, which some other provinces are allowing, Ford was receptive.
“I think the opportunity will come hopefully sooner rather than later,” he said.
“The sooner we can have some loved ones over, and you’re right, give them a hug, then we’re going to get that moving as quickly as possible. So let’s just keep working on reducing the numbers.”
The premier also said he will speak with cottage country mayors this week, noting that the May long weekend is approaching.
“If people go up to their cottage, bring their own food, don’t go to the stores, stay at their cottage, by May the 24th, there’s only so long I can hold the big gates back from these people,” Ford said.
In long-term care, where information comes from a different database than the provincial totals, five more outbreaks were reported for a total of 175, and 18 more deaths were reported for a total of 972.
There were 14,555 tests completed in the past 24 hours, the lowest total in four days, though officials have said there tends to be less demand on the weekends.
Ontario had been testing well below its capacity, and earlier this month Ford called for that to be ramped up. The province is now conducting the most tests per day, both in terms of volume and per capita, Ford said Monday.
Monday marked a gradual start to reopening in Ontario, as a small list of mostly seasonal businesses were allowed to set up shop again, including garden centres that offer curbside pick-up, lawn care and landscaping companies and automatic car washes.
The president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said Monday he’s happy the province has begun to take incremental steps towards reopening the economy.
But Dan Kelly urged the government to let small businesses reopen where it is safe and they can respect public health measures.
“I think the province has been so focused on the health-care aspects associated with COVID-19 that they have not been attending as closely to the economic effects of COVID-19,” he said. “And both are considerable challenges.”
Kelly said Ontario’s current rules give large, big box stores an unfair advantage because they are allowed to open as essential grocery retailers, but also provide a number of non-essential products.
Kelly warned that if small businesses aren’t allowed to reopen soon, some will not be able to reopen at all.
“The consequence is massive business closures,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to allow a heartbeat of commerce to take place.”
Auto dealerships were allowed to reopen but by appointment only, and marinas and golf courses can prepare to reopen.