Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman says his city is “definitely in shape” to move into Phase 2 of Ontario’s reopening process, but that he’s concerned about visitors from the Greater Toronto Area travelling north amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I think there’s some important preparation pieces that I’m hoping the province will assist with over the next three or four days,” Lehman told Global News Tuesday.
“We border the GTA, and we’re going to have a lot of shops, services, restaurants and those sorts of things that open up here that won’t be open, for example, in York Region, just to our south.”
Lehman said he believes a lot of people will leave the GTA to access services that are open in nearby municipalities, like Barrie.
“I would hope (the province) could offer a little bit by way of support to businesses, and for example, in terms of PPE, to make sure that they are supplied with what they need to keep their customers and employees safe,” the Barrie mayor added.
“They’ve given four days notice, but for a lot of these businesses, they’re going to need a little more than that.”
On Monday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a regional approach to Stage 2 of Phase 2 of the province’s reopening.
As of Friday at 12:01 a.m., Ontarians will be allowed to gather in groups of 10 and places of worship will be allowed to reopen with some restrictions.
Certain public health units, including the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit which oversees Barrie, will see the reopening of some businesses and services, including restaurant patios, more outdoor spaces, as well as hairdressers and barbershops.
“Most of the businesses will be operating with some form of reduced capacity, and that’s just a function of operating safely,” Lehman said.
“The second issue, obviously, is because the spread is greater in the Greater Toronto Area, there’s a bigger chance of somebody who is carrying the virus coming up, and if they don’t follow the proper protocols, potentially spreading it.”
Lehman said this weekend is not the time for GTA residents to take a day trip to Barrie.
“I’m sure some of it’s going to happen,” he said, although he notes that most businesses will be operating at reduced capacity, so people who travel north looking for a space on a restaurant patio may be disappointed.
On Tuesday, Dr. Charles Gardner, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s medical officer of health, said he supports the province’s decision to move the region into Phase 2 of its reopening.
“By advancing to this stage, we get the benefits to the economy and to our lives,” Gardner said.
“We get this potential additional risk of proceeding with Stage 2. There could be some migration of people with higher incidence to use our services.”
To manage the risk, Gardner said regional services and businesses must incorporate infection control practices, including physical distancing.
“We need to continue our surveillance to see if, in fact, there is any kind of an increase related to this,” he said.
Lehman said Barrie city staff are working on preparing municipal facilities and services for Phase 2 of Ontario’s reopening but that this will incur more costs to the city, which is already suffering financially.
“We want to reopen these services for people, but it’s not like there’s anymore money coming in,” the Barrie mayor said.
“We continue to bleed financially and opening these facilities will make that worse.”
Lehman said it’s necessary for cities to get more funding, especially if they’re going to be reopening public services.
“We do need the province and the federal government to get together and provide meaningful relief to municipalities, or we’re going to see a situation where some of these services can’t open back up again,” he added.
There have been 161 total cases of the novel coronavirus in Barrie, 481 in Simcoe County and 31,090 in Ontario.
— With files from Global News’ Jessica PattonView link »