JULY 17 / NICOLE KLEINSTEUBER
Ontario is taking a major step today to re-open its economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stage 3 of the reopening effort takes effect across 24 out of 34 public health units, including Hastings and Prince Edward Counties, Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge and Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington jurisdictions.
Earlier this week, the government announced Stage 3 rules would allow restaurants to resume indoor service, as well as businesses such as bars, gyms, theatres and casinos to start welcoming patrons again.
Belleville mayor Mitch Panciuk called the reopening a ‘long-time coming’ as the first provincial declaration of emergency was announced on Mar. 17.
“It made a lot of changes to our lives quickly and I’m really relieved to see that today is finally upon us,” he told Cool 100.1 morning host Chris Wiggins in an interview Friday.
While a large swath of the province is reopening, the mayor still stressed the importance of the public maintaining the best health practices. They include social distancing, wearing a mask or face covering in enclosed public spaces, frequent hand washing and staying home when sick. New face mask requirements went into effect in Hastings Prince Edward Counties along with the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District at midnight Friday.
“When we look around the world and we can see people who have not been careful after they have reopened and they are going backward,” he stated. “We don’t want to do that. We’ve worked way too hard to give it up today.”
There are still zero active cases of COVID-19 in HPE with the last reported case on May 18. There have been 43 confirmed cases in total with five deaths caused by complications from the virus.
Basically everything is able to open today, Panciuk said.
“Not all businesses will open some of them are still trying to do it safely but everybody has the opportunity,” he added. “Theatres are able to open I understand that they are not.”
Cineplex Entertainment which operates a theatre in Belleville announced it has been given the green light from the province to open however it’s still reviewing the province’s rules for Stage 3, so they won’t be opening just yet.
The rules also raise the limits on the size of indoor gatherings to a maximum of 50 people, which allows much more freedom and flexibility, the mayor said. As 100 people are allowed to congregate outdoors, ‘that is going to allow us to resume games and athletic competitions,’ he said.
There are also big changes are coming to outdoor public spaces in Belleville as four local playgrounds open to children and families.
West Zwick’s Park, Riverside Park, Kinsmen Park and Thurlow Park will open Friday. The mayor says staff will be working hard to ensure more parks will open later in the week.
Prince Edward County is also opening its parks across the municipality Friday with officials reminding residents that physical distancing and diligent handwashing and sanitization are still necessary.
When it comes to the reopening timeline, Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith said his government is hearing from constituents say it’s happening too fast while others counter with it’s taking too long.
“While working with the chief medical officer of health and the health team for the province of Ontario we determined that after getting four straight weeks of data from stage 2 that we were pretty free and clear in most of rural Ontario to move on to Stage 3,” Smith told Wiggy in an interview the day earlier.
“We’ve taken the time and made sure that we have done things methodically but you’re never going to please everybody all the time. Never ever did we anticipate anything like this happening. Where we virtually had to shut down the entire economy. It’s been hard for a lot of people and there are a lot of people who are really concerned about COVID-19 and rightly so and that’s why as we move into Stage 3 everybody still has to follow the rules.”
Ontario reported 111 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. Levels have come down to about 100 a day and there used to be 500 a day in April and May Smith recalled.
“It seems like the public is doing a very good job of following the rules,” he said pointing to health practices issued by public health.
Smith said it will be ‘interesting to see what happens today’ because much of the opinion polling his government has done shows people aren’t ready to go back to movie theatres, get back on airplanes or sit inside a restaurant just yet.
“It will be interesting to see how many people do participate in ‘in-dining’ restaurants,” he said. “You don’t have to sit out on a patio and swelter in the heat you can actually enjoy some air conditioning and nice Italian Food like Linguini’s or wherever you want to go to have a nice meal.”
The new rules don’t yet apply in the greater Toronto and Hamilton areas, the Niagara region and Windsor-Essex, all of which are still trying to reduce the numbers of local COVID-19 cases.
But Premier Doug Ford says the next phase of economic recovery suggests the province is turning a corner after feeling the ravages of the global pandemic.