The PC government announced Friday afternoon that additional companies will soon be open for business, marking a new tack in the fight against the coronavirus that has mostly seen heightened restrictions to stop the pandemic.
Ontario companies are mostly work-from-home at the moment due to the province's extraordinary emergency orders, with exceptions made for essential businesses that are deemed integral to the supply chain or health care effort, like grocery stores, gas stations and various health-related occupations.
Now the government is easing some of those restrictions and effectively resurrecting its "open for business" message.
Those businesses include garden centres and nurseries for pickup and delivery, lawncare and landscaping, automatic car washes, car dealerships by appointment only, and additional essential construction projects. Golf courses and marinas can begin preparations for the season, but cannot be open to the public just yet. The eased restrictions will come as of May 4.
The small list of businesses are largely seasonal, can work outside or deliver to the curb, and are ones the government deemed could operate within public health guidelines.
"We are allowing certain businesses to reopen under strict guidelines because we are confident they can operate safely and adapt to the current environment," Premier Doug Ford said in a statement. "While further reductions in the spread are needed before we can begin reopening the province, we have the right framework and the right workplace guidelines in place to do so gradually and safely."
"We have reason to be optimistic," the premier added in his afternoon press conference. "We are getting closer to opening things up...today is a glimmer of hope."
The easing does not represent the government implementing Stage 1 of the phased approach away from public health guidelines, which would only come with two weeks of consistent declines in Ontario's coronavirus caseload. Additionally, social distancing guidelines, like maintaining six feet from other individuals, will remain.
The government had been criticized by the opposition earlier in the week for releasing a vague framework for lifting public restrictions that did not have much in the way of detail. Later in the week the government added some details for the kinds of workplace safety measures that would have to be in place for businesses to open, with the Star reporting that a top Conservative insider bemoaned the additional "red tape."
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce supported the move by the government. "We are pleased to see certain businesses and workplaces are able to re-open and it is being done in a thoughtful and gradual way. We commend the Province in being steadfast in their dedication to protect the health and safety of Ontarians while also focusing efforts on economic recovery," stated President Rocco Rossi, a former PC candidate. The Chamber also called for more robust guidelines on personal protective equipment as businesses get ready to return to work.
Green Leader Mike Schreiner expressed his approval for garden centre changes that support Ontarians with a green thumb. "I am delighted that people can safely start tending to their gardens and growing fresh fruit and vegetables," he stated.
But he added that the government should think about what kind of economy it should re-open when it gradually does so. "The province should be seriously looking at a universal basic income, an overhaul of long-term care and immediate ways to nurture a cleaner, safer, healthier economy."