ontario reopening

Parts of Ontario reopening today want people from Toronto to stay away

The gradual, phased reopening of Ontario's economy begins today with three of 34 public health units leaving lockdown to re-enter the province's newly-updated COVID-19 response framework system.

As of 12:01 a.m. Wednesday morning, stay-at-home orders have been lifted in the regions of Hastings Prince Edward, Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington (KFL&A), and Renfrew County.

All three areas have been transitioned into the colour-coded framework's least-restrictive "green-prevent" category, meaning that most non-essential businesses, hair salons, gyms and restaurants can reopen with some restrictions in place.

While this is no doubt great news for local entrepreneurs, public health officials in each of these respective regions now face the challenge of keeping case numbers low while communities bustle.

A key part of at least one medical officer of health's strategy involves cracking down on interprovincial travel — or, more specifically, keeping away "region hoppers" from COVID-19 hot spots like Toronto.

Dr. Piotr Oglaza of Hastings Prince Edward Public Health has issued a Class 22 order banning local businesses from accepting reservations or bookings for "dining, accommodation, or personal services" from people who live in regions that are still subject to the stay-at-home order.

While exceptions can be made for guests visiting for "essential reasons," businesses found to be in violation of the Class 22 order face fines of up to $5,000.

It makes sense, considering that more than 100,000 people from the GTA were found to have left their own regions against public health recommendations before the most recent provincewide shutdown came into effect on Boxing Day.

A subsequent spike in new daily cases of the virus was observed all over Ontario, once again prompting officials to urge residents against all non-essential travel.

Rules or no rules, people living in the three regions that just reopened still fear that they'll soon see a rush of Torontonians looking to get their hair done and eat indoors for the first time in nearly three months.

The Hastings Prince Edward region is about two and a half hours east of Toronto, but parts of the area are known for attracting tourists with their charming boutique resorts and vineyards.

Renfrew County, just northwest of Ottawa near the Quebec border, and KFL&A both lie further east of Toronto, but locals have been complaining about unwanted visitors from Toronto since the first round of reopening last summer.

Neither of the latter regions have laws in place prohibiting big city residents from visiting or patronizing their businesses, though this could change if things get out of hand and transmission rates spike (again.)

Some in Kingston are already preemptively asking public health officials to keep outsiders away, citing reports of mass reservation requests from Torontonians at hotels and restaurants such as The Keg.

"Kingston opens up and for sure people from Ottawa and Toronto will make a trip to shop there," warned one resident. "It will end in tears folks."

Toronto, York and Peel aren't expected to leave lockdown mode until at least February 22, and that's only if public health indicators are determined to be trending in the right direction.

All other regions are expected to re-enter the colour-coded framework on February 16, though which category they are placed into will depend on local numbers at the time.

If Toronto goes back into the grey zone, where it was before the shutdown was ordered, things will remain the same in many ways — but with some major differences, thanks to "new and modified measures" that apply to all levels of the framework.

Once cleared to leave shutdown mode, each of Ontario's 34 public health regions will have in-person shopping permissions to some extent, as revealed by Premier Doug Ford on Monday.

Non-essential travel remains strictly advised against, however, by both the provincial and federal governments.

Lead photo by

Randy McDonald

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