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Province's business reopening plan could create 'confusion,' says Ontario Chamber

If COVID infection rates trend positively, non-essential stores could reopen doors to limited capacity by Feb. 16
2020-12-23 downtown Timmins MH
Third Avenue in Downtown Timmins.

Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) president Rocco Rossi said the provincial government's gradual reopening plan is sending mixed messages in the easing of pandemic-related restrictions.

“Getting this right is critical - we don’t want to see another spike in cases which could trigger another lockdown, prolong the crisis and further depress consumer confidence. Clear and consistent communication and guidelines will be important determinants of the plan’s success," he said in a statement.

The province has extended the stay-at-home orders in Northern Ontario until at least February 16 at which point each region will transition according to the colour-coded COVID-19 Response Framework and the local public health data available at that time.

But don't expect unfettered and unrestricted access to your favourite big box store anytime soon. 

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Ivana Yelich in Premier Doug Ford's office said no in-person shopping at non-essential retailers is permitted in regions where the stay-at-home order remains in effect, which is most of the province.

If COVID infection rates continue to improve and trend in the right direction, she said by next week most of the remaining regions will transition into the framework and associated level of restrictions (e.g., grey-lockdown, red-control, orange-restrict, yellow-protect and green-prevent).

"That’s when in-person shopping in non-essential shopping will be permitted," said Yelich.

Non-essential retailers will be permitted to open their doors at a patron capacity of 25 per cent. This applies to retailers like hardware and liquor stores, discount and big box stores. Retailers must have a screening system in place for patrons.

“Today’s announcement aims to gradually re-open some of Ontario’s regional economies based on differences in case numbers," said Rossi.

"We have been calling for a coordinated and gradual reopening of the economy, however; we are concerned today’s news risks creating confusion among business and consumers if new rules around re-opening aren’t aligned with stay-at-home orders in certain regions of the province.

“The OCC along with chambers of commerce and boards of trade across the province wrote to the premier last week calling for a coordinated approach to reopening Ontario’s economy, ensuring society reopens for business in a harmonized fashion that prioritizes individual safety as well as economic stability. We also called for the wide-scale implementation of rapid testing and a more robust tracking and tracing regime to inform decisions around closures and openings.

“We welcome steps so that our province and economy can emerge stronger. Most certainly retail businesses will welcome their ability to reopen under restricted capacity. The business community will continue to prove their commitment to safety protocols to protect their workers and customers to keep their doors open.”

- with files from