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Ontario to enter Step 1 of its reopening plan on Friday

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Ontario will enter the first stage of its reopening plan on Friday, a few days ahead of schedule as the province continues to see vaccination rates rise and health indicators improve. 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a statement Monday that the province will officially enter Step 1 of its "Roadmap to Reopen" plan at 12:01 a.m. Friday.

"Thanks to the ongoing success of Team Ontario's vaccine rollout and the ongoing improvements in public health trends, we are able to enter step one of the roadmap and begin to safely and cautiously lift restrictions," Ford said. 

"As we begin to enjoy the benefits of the first step in our roadmap like meeting friends on a patio or visiting your favourite local store, please do so safely by continuing to follow all public health guidelines." 

The decision means that restaurant patios and non-essential retailers will be able to reopen to the public for the first time in months. 

Step 1 of the reopening plan allows outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people; outdoor dining with up to four people per table; non-essential retailers to open at 15 per cent capacity; outdoor sports training and fitness classes of up to 10 people; day camps; overnight camping at provincial parks; outdoor horse racing and motor speedways without spectators; and outdoor pools and wading pools to reopen.

Ford previously signalled that the province would move up its reopening plan. Ontario was initially supposed to enter the first stage of its reopening during the week of June 14. Last week, Ford said he had asked the province's chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams to approve an earlier reopening. 

Restaurants Canada – an industry group that represents Canadian restaurants – welcomed the province's announcement, but said further reopening and more support is needed "to make up for the lost year that Ontario's foodservice businesses have suffered under repeated lockdowns." 

"We're glad it's finally here," Restaurants Canada vice president James Rilett said of the patio reopening in an interview. 

"But our real goal is to get indoor dining, so we'll take this as a step, and hope we can move forward to the next one soon."

According to Rilett, outdoor dining represents between seven to 40 per cent of normal revenue for restaurants that have patios. With indoor dining not expected to be allowed until Step 3, which is not expected for another six weeks, Restaurants Canada says the government needs to step in with more support. The industry group said the province's small business grants "hardly" cover losses from the various lockdowns, and that the foodservice sector will require further funding before they are able to fully reopen. 

"Our industry has probably been the worst hit," Rilett said. "It's really been a tough time and we anticipate for the summer that we'll continue to have restrictions in place, even when we get indoor dining back."

Not all non-essential retailers will be able to reopen on Friday. Retail stores in malls will have to remain closed unless the stores have a street facing entrance. 

Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) president Dan Kelly, who has been calling on the province to expand its reopening plan, said the mall restriction "is deeply unfair." 

"The playing field between the big guys and small business needs to be level," he said on Twitter. 

"Let's find a way to safely reopen all." 

Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.

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