TORONTO — Ontario stores and restaurants were teeming with customers Friday as the province lifted some of its COVID-19 restrictions for the first time in months.
Patios that have sat empty since last year were filled with diners and lively conversation once more and stores had lines snaking down the street as customers rushed to buy goods they’ve had to purchase online or do without.
The return of dining out and many retailers stem from Ontario’s latest COVID-19 measures, which now allow up to four people per restaurant table or entire households to eat together on outdoor patios.
The province is also permitting non-essential retailers to operate at 15 per cent capacity and with no limitations on what goods they can sell.
Carolina Lagos, who lined up outside a Winners in Oakville, Ont. on Friday morning, was thrilled with the return of in-person shopping because her three growing kids were in need of shoes.
“My daughter has flip-flops right now. That’s all she had,” she said. “She’s outgrown all the things from last spring and then last Christmas we didn’t get to shop at all.”
Just as excited to see restrictions lifted was Susan Amres, a Mississauga woman who took the day off work to celebrate.
She kicked off reopening with a shopping trip to Giant Tiger before heading with her family to the nearby Symposium Cafe, where she had made reservations as soon as she learned patio dining would be permitted.
The restaurant’s small patio appeared to be at capacity with diners sitting under brightly coloured umbrellas and at spaced out tables around 11 a.m. local time.
“To see this many out this early is really good news,” said the cafe’s manager, Matthew Burnip.
He saw sales plummet to one-fifth of their normal rate during the pandemic because his café had to operate solely through takeout and couldn’t allow customers to enjoy its large dining area.
“But we kept trucking on,” he said. “Now that we are open, hopefully we will be back and doing good.”
Business owners like Burnip are hopeful this will be the last time they have to lockdown because COVID-19 cases in Ontario have been falling for months.
Ontario reported 574 cases and four deaths from the virus Friday.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said 109 cases were in Toronto, 84 in Peel Region, 79 in Waterloo and 51 in the Porcupine Health Unit.
The data, based on 28,949 tests, also showed 489 people were hospitalized with the virus on Friday, including 440 people in intensive care and 292 on ventilators.
Elliott also shared that 199,951 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered Thursday, for a total of more than 10.8 million.
The province has promised that if vaccinations continue to increase and cases fall, it will loosen restrictions again in 21 days.
But one region in northern Ontario, the Porcupine health unit, will hold off on easing restrictions for now as infections there soar.
Meanwhile, the province announced Thursday it is accelerating second doses of COVID-19 vaccines for people in Delta variant hot spots, with bookings set to open up next week.
Residents in seven designated areas who had their first dose on or before May 9 will be able to book an appointment for an earlier second shot starting Monday.
The province is also encouraging unvaccinated residents in those areas — Toronto, Peel, Halton, Porcupine, Waterloo, York and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph — to get immunized.
However, the government said it won’t shorten the dose interval for those who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as a first dose. Health Minister Christine Elliott said Ontario will stick to the 12-week interval based on the available scientific and medical evidence.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11, 2021.
Denise Paglinawan and Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press