Allow businesses to reopen, responsibly

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford agrees that the province’s emergency measures were unfair when it shut down the retail business sector in March because of COVID-19.

Given that, his Progressive Conservative government should be correcting that unfairness as quickly as possible.

Unequal treatment of the retail business sector may have been defensible at the start of the COVID-19 emergency, when governments were compelled to act quickly to control the spread of the new coronavirus.

But it’s not excusable now as the government begins to reopen the economy.

The original wave of business closures and exemptions was based on out-of-date thinking – that grocery stores only sell groceries and that pharmacies only sell prescription and non-prescription drugs.

Thus, they were allowed to remain open, ignoring the fact that supermarket, pharmacy and big box chains today sell many other retail products than just groceries and drugs.

And they have continued to do so while other businesses that sell similar products have been forced to remain closed, causing enormous economic damage to those that have been able to survive.

Ford on May 4 acknowledged the inherent unfairness of, for example, restricting garden centres to curb side sales as they reopen while many supermarkets and big box stores have been selling plants directly to customers throughout the lockdown. The restriction against garden centres was lifted within a few days. Other good news for businesses classified as non-essential was expected to follow.


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Of course, there is always the risk of a possible resurgence of COVID-19 if reopened businesses and their customers don’t follow social distancing rules. Should that happen, the Ontario government will be compelled to impose lockdown measures again.

But, with that caveat in mind, these businesses deserve the chance to show they can reopen and keep their employees and their customers safe.

A Leger poll released on May 4 found that 65 per cent of Ontarians are satisfied with the pace of the provincial government in easing social distancing measures and returning life to normal, while 12 per cent want it to be faster and 22 per cent want it to slow down.

One note of caution for Ford is that only 23 per cent of Ontarians are comfortable with reopening schools and daycares.

The government has not made a final decision on when schools and daycares will reopen. It has said they will remain closed until at least May 31.

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