Ontario to begin gradual reopening process in some regions as of Feb. 10

Law360 Canada (February 8, 2021, 4:32 PM EST) -- Ontario has announced that the province will end its stay-at-home order and begin to gradually reduce COVID-19 public health restrictions in some areas starting Feb. 10.

As of Feb. 10 at 12:01 a.m., according to a Feb. 8 government news release, the Hastings Prince Edward, Renfrew County and District and Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington public health regions will return to the colour-coded COVID-19 response framework at the Green-Prevent level.

Under the revised framework, small businesses in Grey Lockdown regions will be able to open to in-person shopping at 25 per cent capacity, provided they observe the required public health guidelines, including masking and distancing.

 Premier Doug Ford

Premier Doug Ford

“Our number one priority will always be protecting the health and safety of all individuals, families and workers across the province,” Premier Doug Ford said in the news release. “But we must also consider the severe impact COVID-19 is having on our businesses.”

As of Feb. 16, an additional 28 public health regions will move to the response framework. Toronto, Peel Region and York Region will make the shift on Feb. 22.

Final decisions on timing and which colour-coded categories each region will enter will be subject to review of the public health indicators at those times, said the news release.

Concerned by the continued development and spread of new COVID-19 variants, the Ontario government said it is also introducing an “emergency brake” to allow for immediate action if a public health unit region experiences rapid acceleration in COVID-19 transmission or if its health-care system risks becoming overwhelmed. If this occurs, the chief medical officer of health, in consultation with the local medical officer of health, may advise immediately moving a region into Grey-Lockdown to interrupt transmission.

“While we are seeing our numbers trend in the right direction, our situation remains precarious as the variants of concern remain a serious risk,” said chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams. “This is not a reopening or a ‘return to normal’ and we must continue to limit close contact to our immediate households and stay at home except for essential reasons.”

In a Feb. 7 news release, Toronto Public Health reported the first confirmed cases of the B.1.351 mutation in a Toronto resident, known as the South African variant, and the P.1 COVID-19 mutation, known as the Brazilian variant. As of Feb. 6, 2021, it noted, there were 27 confirmed variant of concern cases in Toronto.

In a Feb. 8 news release, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) called Ontario’s reopening plan a “small, positive step,” but noted that thousands of small businesses will remain in full lockdown even after Feb. 22.

“This is deeply unfair and will mean that in-person dining, personal services like hair and nail care, and gyms will remain in full lockdown with no end in sight,” said the CFIB release. “We strongly urge government to move the hard caps for sectors like gyms, salons, events and restaurants to a capacity limit or other measures that better reflect their work and space.”

Also in a Feb. 8 news release, the Calgary-based Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) lauded a move by the Ontario government late in the day on Feb. 5 to amend lockdown regulations to allow a Kitchener, Ont.-based gym and a few other select gyms to reopen. The lockdown order was amended to allow gyms to reopen if they cater solely to disabled Ontarians who have a medical note requiring physical therapy that they cannot receive elsewhere.

The Kitchener gym, NorthXFitness, which caters to individuals with physical and cognitive disabilities, was seeking an immediate injunction so the regulation would no longer apply in its case and was also challenging the constitutionality of the lockdown order. The CCF is an intervener in the case.

“The amendments to the lockdown order grant part of the injunction that NorthX Fitness was seeking with the support of the CCF,” said CCF litigation director Christine Van Geyn.

“Ontarians should not need to go to court in order for the government to recognize their Charter protected rights,” she added. “These amendments appear to be a direct response to this application. We firmly believe that without litigation, the government would not have amended the lockdown order and would have continued to violate Ontarians’ Charter protected rights.”

Meanwhile, NDP Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath expressed concern that the Ford government is starting to reopen the province too fast.

“Don’t just reopen things — make it safe to reopen,” she said in a Feb. 8 news release. “We’re all paying the price because Doug Ford keeps making the same mistakes.

“He didn’t want to invest in long-term care, so the second wave claimed more lives than the first,” she added. “He didn’t invest in more testing, tracing and public health protections, so businesses have opened only to be forced to shut down again. He didn’t invest in safer schools, so they reopened only to have to close again.”

The government news release stipulated that the provincial emergency declared under s 7.0.1 of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMPCA) will be allowed to terminate at the end of Feb. 9 and the provincewide stay-at-home order will cease to apply in some regions as of Feb. 10. Orders currently in force under the EMCPA have been extended to Feb. 23 and will be extended further if necessary, it said. Enforcement of residential evictions will remain paused in the public health unit regions where the provincial stay-at-home order remains in effect.

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