The provincial legislature has voted to extend its state of emergency due to the coronavirus to the beginning of June, as retail stores were allowed to partly reopen and the top doctor suggested more restrictions could be loosened soon.
The state of emergency will remain in place until June 2 and is dealt with separately from the emergency orders, recently extended to May 19, which cover closures of bars and restaurants except for take-out and delivery, theatres, outdoor amenities such as playgrounds, and child care centres.
Only Randy Hillier – a former government member now sitting as an independent after being kicked out of caucus – was opposed to extending the state of emergency.
“We must stop amplifying the danger and begin communicating a better understanding of the risk,” Hillier said.
The government and the opposition politicians also agreed to bring back question period on a semi-regular basis, at least until early June, when the legislature had been set to rise for the summer.
Ontario has previously announced that publicly funded schools will be closed until at least May 31, and Ford said that news on child care centres and schools is coming early next week.
In the meantime, Education Minister Stephen Lecce encouraged school boards to delay events such as proms and graduation ceremonies to the summer or fall, rather than cancel them outright.
Ontario has seen a decline in both the number of new cases and the positivity rate of testing, while contact tracing is improving, the chief medical officer of health said.
“This continues to move us in the overall direction of a downward trend,” Dr. David Williams said.
Williams said that by the weekend health officials may consider advising the province to move to the first stage of its reopening plan, which includes opening select workplaces, allowing for more people at certain events such as funerals, and having hospitals resume some non-urgent surgeries.
Stores in Ontario were allowed to reopen Monday for curbside pickup and delivery, a move Ford has said will allow thousands of people to return to work.
Cat Van Wert, a co-owner of gaming store the Guild House, said they have switched to online ordering and same-day delivery within Toronto’s midtown area.
“Curbside doesn’t make sense for us to be there, standing with the door open, and a table in front like you’re seeing with a Starbucks or something like that,” Van Wert said.
Several Toronto-area malls said some of their stores with street entrances were offering curbside pickup Monday, or would be in the coming days.
Yorkdale Shopping Centre said close to a dozen stores — including food services and department stores — were taking advantage of the newly loosened rules, while the downtown Eaton Centre said four were doing so.
Square One Shopping Centre, in Mississauga, said a department store and sporting goods store were offering curbside pickup Monday, with others making preparations.
The measure announced last week is meant to help ramp the economy back up after the pandemic caused unprecedented job losses. According to data released Friday by Statistics Canada, 689,200 Ontarians lost their jobs in April, in addition to the 403,000 the agency says were lost in March.
Garden centres, nurseries, hardware stores and provincial parks have also been allowed to reopen.
Ontario reported 308 new cases of COVID-19 Monday — a 1.5 per cent increase over Sunday — and 35 more deaths. That brings the province to a total of 20,546 cases, including 1,669 deaths and 15,131 resolved cases.
The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 rose, as did those on ventilators, though the number of patients in intensive care dropped by one.
At the legislature on Tuesday, only 42 out of Ontario’s 124 members will be allowed in the chamber at any given time, and they will vote on both the motion to extend the state of emergency and a bill that makes pandemic-related changes to various acts.
Politicians have also agreed to holding regular question periods, with sessions to be held Tuesday as well as May 19, 20, 26, 27, June 2 and 3.
The government is consulting with opposition parties about the possibility of extending sittings into the summer.
Members are also expected to agree to authorize virtual sittings of the finance committee so it can conduct four-week studies of the economic impacts of COVID-19 on various sectors, including tourism, culture and heritage, municipalities, construction and building, infrastructure, and small and medium businesses.
It is expected to wrap up the overall study by Oct. 8.
Ontario’s budget watchdog projected Monday that the province’s deficit will quadruple to $41 billion this year, the largest in its history, as the pandemic cuts revenues and leads to increased spending.
The government projected in a mini-budget in March that its plan for $7 billion in new spending and $10 billion in tax and other deferrals would see the deficit rise from $9 billion to a projected $20.5 billion for 2020-21.
The Financial Accountability Office said in a report Monday that assuming Ontario eases restrictions gradually through the summer, the deficit can be reduced to $25.3 billion in 2021-22 due to a strengthening economy.
But the office also said that sharply increased borrowing as a result of higher deficits will push Ontario’s net debt-to-GDP ratio to a record 49.7 per cent this fiscal year — much higher than the government’s projection of 41.7 per cent.
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