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Garden centres, auto dealerships, car washes to reopen Monday in Ontario

A person rides her bicycle past a fenced off cherry blossoms at a park during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Friday, May 1, 2020. Health officials and the government have asked that people stay inside to help curb the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

A person rides her bicycle past a fenced off cherry blossoms at a park during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Friday, May 1, 2020. Health officials and the government have asked that people stay inside to help curb the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

TORONTO - Garden centres, landscaping companies and auto dealerships were among a number of seasonal businesses Premier Doug Ford said would be allowed to reopen on Monday as Ontario took further steps towards restarting its economy.

The decision was based on the advice of the province's chief medical officer of health, Ford said Friday.

"We're at an important starting point and we should take today as a sign," he said. "Today's news shows us that if we stay the course, if we stay vigilant and take the measured approach we can keep moving in the right direction."

All of the companies reopening on Monday, which also include essential construction projects, will have to follow strict health and safety rules, the premier said. Marinas and golf courses will also be allowed to start preparing to reopen, he said.

The Progressive Conservative government ordered most businesses to close in late March in order to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While other provinces have released plans with specific timelines for reopening in recent days, Friday's announcement was the first time Ontario had provided a concrete date for any non-essential businesses to open their doors.

Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli said the province is moving ahead cautiously to prevent jeopardizing progress and keep the rate of COVID-19 infection down.

"Easing the unprecedented restrictions our government put in place to save lives and stop the spread will be a complicated and difficult task," he said. "But Ontario's business community has risen to every challenge presented by COVID-19."

Ford called the announcement a much-needed "glimmer of hope" that he believes in some cases will help the mental health of people across the province.

"In the coming days and weeks I'm hopeful that we'll meet more of our health targets," he said. "I'm very optimistic that in the near future we'll be able to announce that additional businesses will be able to open up safely. People are eager to get back to work, I know that."

The province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, said while some businesses are reopening he does not think Ontario has moved out of the pandemic into the first phase of the province's economic recovery plan.

He stressed that all of the public health orders calling for people to maintain physical distancing, stay at home if they can, and not gather in crowds continue to apply.

"We haven't eased off those," he said. "With any of these (businesses) considered now, they have to continue to maintain that."

Williams also cautioned people to not let their guard down as forecasts for the weekend suggest parts of southern Ontario could be in for some nice weather.

"I don't mind people going outside and getting exercise but plan it," he said. "Don't just go out and go to the most crowded places."

The announcement comes as Ontario reported 421 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, and 39 more deaths, while the growth rate of new cases moved slightly lower.

The province has now seen 16,608 cases, an increase of 2.6 per cent over the previous day. That's down from the 2.9 per cent growth rate on Thursday, as the province looks for a consistent two-to-four weeks of declines before starting to reopen the economy.

The new data Friday includes 1,121 deaths and 10,825 resolved cases.

The number of tests performed over the past 24 hours jumped by 3,604, to 16,532. Another 11,859 were listed as under investigation. The government had previously promised to reach 18,900 tests a day by mid-April.

Figures on COVID-19's impact in long-term care homes, which come from a separate database than the provincial numbers, show 26 more residents of those facilities died in the past day.

There are now outbreaks at 166 long-term care homes, up from 163 on Thursday.

Hospitalizations are up from 999 people to 1,017, though the numbers of people in intensive care and on ventilators declined for a fifth straight day.

On Friday morning, the head of Ontario's Chamber of Commerce called on the federal and provincial governments to place a moratorium on commercial evictions.

Rocco Rossi said while a previously announced federal program to provide some rent assistance to small businesses is a good first step, more urgent action is required.

"The challenge faced by small businesses today is immediate," Rossi said in a statement. "It is good that help is on the way, but for an increasingly large number of small businesses, the time they are being asked to wait will result in permanent closure."

Meanwhile, the province announced a hydro rate increase has been deferred for approximately 50,000 industrial customers.

The hike could have seen their electricity prices increase by 15 per cent if it had moved ahead Friday.

Instead, the government said the temporary rate deferral will stay in place until at least May 31, but could be extended.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 1, 2020.


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