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Ontario stage one reopening includes stores, surgeries, tennis, dog grooming


TORONTO — Ontarians will be able to go shopping, play tennis and take their pets to the vet next week, but they should still avoid visiting friends and family, Premier Doug Ford announced Thursday.

Tuesday will mark the beginning of the province's first recovery stage, which also includes the resumption of some surgeries, as the numbers of new COVID-19 cases in Ontario continue to drop.

"We need to keep in mind that all of this is dependent on the numbers," Ford said.

"The truth is we can't fully predict where things will go, so we need to be ready to react if we see a sudden increase in cases. We cannot let our guard down now. We must watch the trends like a hawk."

Provisions enacted in March to ban employers from requiring sick notes for those in self-isolation or quarantine and ensure protected leave for workers who have to take unpaid time off for those reasons will stay in place during all of Ontario's recovery stages, Ford said.

A few measures will be loosened over the weekend. On Saturday, golf courses can reopen though clubhouses can only open for washrooms and take-out food. Marinas, boat clubs and public boat launches can open Saturday, as can private parks and campgrounds for trailers and RVs whose owners have a full season contract, and businesses that board animals. 

Although stage one will allow in-store shopping, golf games and for house cleaners and babysitters to work in people's homes, provincial guidance to stay two metres away from anyone outside people's immediate household is still in place.

Ford, who was criticized after he revealed he had two daughters who don't live with him visit his home contrary to the official advice, said he knows people are desperate to see family.

"I know I had one of my daughters over, or two, and I got in trouble for that, but for months we never saw them," he said.

"I understand the pain you're going through, your family's going through, and other families are going through and I just ask, just hang in there a little bit longer and we'll get through it."

Health Minister Christine Elliott said officials have been discussing the concept of two-household bubbles, as other provinces are using, and Finance Minister Rod Phillips said updates on gatherings, school and child-care centres will come next week.

The health team is also looking closely at current restrictions on religious ceremonies, Elliott said.

All construction can resume Tuesday and limits will be lifted on maintenance, repair and property management services, such as cleaning, painting, and pool maintenance.

Most retail stores that have a street entrance can open with physical distancing restrictions, such as limits on the number of customers in a store to one customer per four square metres, only using fitting rooms with doors — not curtains — to allow for better disinfecting, booking appointments and continuing to provide curbside pickup and delivery.

Golf driving ranges and tennis courts will be able to reopen Tuesday, and sports that can be played with physical distancing will be allowed, including water sports on outdoor bodies of water — no swimming pool sports — such as rowing and sailing, badminton, track and field, gymnastics, figure skating, fencing, rock climbing, and horse racing.

Individual sports that are high contact still won't be allowed, including racquetball, squash, boxing, wrestling and martial arts.

Some scheduled surgeries will restart, as well as in-person counselling such as psychology or addictions counselling. 

Ontario's recently released framework for resuming surgeries has left decisions on elective and scheduled surgeries up to hospitals, but said they should be in a community with a manageable and stable level of COVID-19, have adequate personal protective equipment and medication, and have enough inpatient and intensive care beds.

Some arts production that can't be done remotely can resume, such as music studios, film and television post-production, animation studios, book and video game publishing.

Other businesses and services reopening next week include vehicle dealerships and retailers, regular veterinary appointments, pet grooming, pet sitting and pet training; libraries for pickup or deliveries; and housekeepers and babysitters.

The CEO of the Retail Council of Canada applauded the Ontario government's move to reopen the province's economy but urged further action to save businesses from closing.

"Many of the retailers who are forced to remain closed are in dire straits as they don't have the required cashflow to cover fixed expenses, including the ability to pay their rent," she said in a statement. "With limited or no income from sales, many simply can't remain viable."

Ontario reported 258 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 33 more deaths. That brings the provincial total to 21,494 cases, a 1.2 per cent increase over the previous day — the lowest growth rate since early March. 

The total includes 1,798 deaths and 16,204 cases that have been resolved.

Nearly 17,500 tests for COVID-19 were completed in the previous day, as the province works toward a goal of processing 20,000 per day.

Ontario's associate chief medical officer of health said the new testing guidelines released Thursday will have a direct impact on who is tested at the province's assessment centres.

"Basically, anyone who shows up with symptoms compatible with COVID-19 should be tested," Dr. Barbara Yaffe said. "Before that it was clearly in the clinician's power to decide yes or no." 

But the new provincial guidelines say that "clinicians should continue to use their clinical judgment during patient assessment and test facilitation" and anyone who exhibits a single symptom of COVID-19 should be "considered for testing."

Those symptoms include a fever, a new or worsening cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, new taste or smell disorders, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and congestion or a runny nose without some underlying reason.

Ontario is also launching a workplace personal protective equipment directory, so businesses can find suppliers of the protective gear they will need as they reopen.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 14, 2020.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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