Ontario will allow non-essential retail stores to open for curbside pickup next week, as the province allows for some small steps toward reopening the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Premier Doug Ford says garden centres and nurseries will also be allowed to open on Friday, and hardware stores and safety supply stores will be allowed to reopen on Saturday.
He says those stores will be expected to follow the same public health measures as grocery stores and pharmacies currently do, such as physical distancing, offering contactless payment and sanitizing surfaces.
Ontario also extended its emergency orders today, which include the continued closure of non-essential businesses, as the province reported 412 new cases of COVID-19 and 68 more deaths.
The province also renewed lower electricity rates for residential consumers, farms and small businesses to the end of the month. An initial order from March for off-peak rates to be charged all day had been set to expire this week.
The emergency orders, which were set to expire Wednesday, have now been extended for another two weeks, to May 19.
They also include a prohibition of public gatherings of more than five people, the closure of bars and restaurants except for take-out and delivery, libraries, theatres and concert venues, outdoor amenities such as playgrounds, and child care centres.
The province has separately announced that publicly funded schools will be closed until at least May 31.
Ontario's overall declaration of a state of emergency was extended last month to May 12.
Meanwhile, the LCBO announced that it is expanding store hours that were reduced in March, rolling out the earlier opening and later closing times in stages until they apply to all stores in the first week of June.
As of Wednesday, Ontario had seen 18,722 cases of COVID-19, including 1,429 deaths and 13,222 ones that have been resolved — more than 70 per cent of all cases.
The new case total represents a 2.3 per cent increase over Tuesday's total, representing a relatively stable growth rate over the past several days.
The numbers of people in hospital and in intensive care units decreased Wednesday — 1,032 and 219 respectively — but the number of people on ventilators rose from 166 to 174.
Fewer than 13,000 tests were completed during the previous day, even though the province had said it would be doing 16,000 tests a day by now.
On Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford delivered a sharp rebuke to half of Ontario's regional medical officers of health, blaming them for low testing rates. The government had previously promised to reach 18,900 tests a day by mid-April.
In long-term care, there were 71 more deaths reported Wednesday for a total of 1,074. The information comes from a database separate from the provincial totals, where there is often a lag.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press