The decision has been made: Niagara will move into the grey-lockdown zone Tuesday.
Non-essential retailers closed since Dec. 26 will be allowed to open, with 25 per cent capacity, but restaurants remain closed to indoor dining, able only to offer takeout. Hair salons, barber shops, gyms, and yoga studios all must remain closed.
Niagara will be the only region in grey next week. Most of Ontario has moved into less restrictive colour zones of red through green, with the North Bay Parry Sound District joining Peel, Toronto and York public health regions to remain in the shutdown, stay-at-home order until Feb. 22.
The news about Niagara began to spread quickly Friday afternoon, although it was not announced by Doug Ford in his daily TV appearance, when he spoke only of vaccinations and rapid testing.
Instead, the information was posted on the provincial website.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero says she had been watching the news, waiting to hear Ford’s announcement, and left for about five minutes to run to the post office.
When she returned, Ford had already spoken, saying nothing about reopening, but town planning director, Craig Larmour, who had been watching the provincial website, had seen the posting.
Disero says she supported Dr. Mustafa Hirji earlier earlier this week when numbers were showing some of Niagara still with case numbers in the grey zone, although by Wednesday, Niagara-on-the-Lake and most municipalities were in red, with one in orange.
That was an improvement from a week ago, Friday, Feb. 5, when half the municipalities were in grey.
“We all have to be in red for the region to move into that category. I’m hoping and praying we can be in red as soon as possible,” she added.
“I’m not a doctor, and I don’t have all the necessary information, but for now better minds have decided we should stay in grey.”
One important factor for Niagara is getting better control of cases in long-term care homes, she says.
As the decision regarding Niagara was being made, there were still 19 long-term care and retirement homes in the region with outbreaks.
News of moving into red, says Disero, will mean that the number of cases are down, fewer people are becoming seriously ill and dying, and the survival of more businesses could begin.
Restaurant owner Maria Mavridis of Firehall Flame and Corks Wine Bar and Eatery had been waiting for the announcement, hoping Niagara would be in red. She was anticipating being able to open next week, and was ready to email her staff with schedules. Instead, she was hearing that retailers could open with limited capacities, but not restaurants.
“It’s so confusing. We were so excited, and ready to open.”
It wasn’t making a lot of sense to her or seeming very fair that stores could open, but restaurants could not, even though they could follow all the safety protocols and limit the number of people in their dining rooms.
“It’s very frustrating,” she says. “But I guess better safe than sorry.”
The fear for Niagara could have been that with restaurants open, people from Toronto and the others still in lockdown might travel to Niagara, she added.
Although Hirji had said publicly he believed Niagara should be in grey, and that he planned to share his opinion with the province, Disero says she’s not sure how much discussion there was with the local Public Health department.
The decision, ultimately, was made by the province, through cabinet, she says.
Despite the reopening of some businesses Tuesday, the message to the public hasn’t changed, says Disero — we’re still being asked to stay at home, go out only for essential shopping, medical appointments and exercise, and not meet with friends or family members outside our households.
Although Ford did not address specifics about next week’s move of regions into colour zones Friday, he spoke of opening “super, super” cautiously to help businesses and the economy, and re-iterated this is not a time to party, but to follow all the protocols in place to avoid a third wave.