Most of the GTA will be allowed to move forward to Stage 3 of the province’s reopening plan at the end of this week but Toronto and Peel Region will be left behind for now.

Premier Doug Ford announced this afternoon that Durham, Halton, Hamilton, Niagara, Haldimand-Norfolk, Sarnia-Lambton and York regions will all be permitted to enter Stage 3 at 12:01 a.m. on Friday.

Toronto, Peel Region and Windsor-Essex Region will, however, remain in Stage 2 for at least another week with Ford asking residents of those cities to “please be patient.”

It should be noted that the holding back of Toronto, Peel and Windsor-Essex regions is in line with previous comments from Health Minister Christine Elliott, who has said that officials need about four weeks of data to decide whether it is safe to proceed to the next stage in any given region.

Toronto and Peel regions only entered Stage 2 on June 24, so there won’t be four weeks of data available until Wednesday. Windsor Essex, with the exception of Leamington and Kingsville, moved to Stage 2 on June 25 and there won’t be four weeks of data for that region until Thursday.

“We do need that specific data for those four weeks,” Elliott said on Monday. “That is really important in order to make those public health decisions about whether it is safe to move into Stage 3 or not.”

Ford says province is making ‘steady progress’

Stage 3 allows for the resumption of indoor dining at restaurants and bars and the reopening of gyms, movie theatres and other businesses.

It also raises the limit on gatherings of people to 50 indoors and 100 outdoors.

Speaking with reporters on Monday, Ford said that having seven more regions move to Stage 3 is a “clear sign” that the province is making “steady progress” in the battle against COVID-19.

He also hinted that the other regions not included in today’s announcement could get the green light to advance to Stage 3 “very soon.”

Of course, not everyone in the communities that remain stuck in Stage 2 are clamouring to get to the next phase.

At his biweekly briefing on Monday afternoon, Mayor John Mayor John Tory said that the province’s decision to keep the city in Stage 2 for at least this week will give local officials time to implement new measures and restrictions for indoor dining once it is eventually permitted.

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie also took to Twitter to voice her support of Peel Region remaining in Stage 2. She said that while Mississauga is now seeing only about five new cases a day “we have more work to do as a region to drive cases down.”

“I know a lot of residents and businesses are going to be disappointed but we are going to get there, we are going to get there soon but we are going to get there when the time is right,” she said during an interview with CP24 on Monday afternoon. “We have been trending well here in Mississauga but there is still some community and household transmission occurring in other parts of the region and that is preventing us from moving forward at this time. I can certainly understand the rationale behind it.”

Tory has pushed for stricter rules

Toronto, Peel Region and Windsor-Essex have been home to the majority of new COVID-19 cases in the province for weeks now, which is what prompted the Ford government to pursue a regional reopening strategy in the first place.

Over the weekend Mayor John Tory asked the province to introduce stricter rules for indoor dining in Toronto when it is eventually permitted, citing the experience of others cities that have seen clusters of cases tied to the reopening of bars.

On Monday, Ford said that while he “wouldn’t disagree” with additional rules to reduce the risk of virus spread within bars and restaurants the responsibility for implementing them will ultimately fall to local public health officials.

“Just keep in mind that every chief medical officer, all 34 of them, under section 22 (of the Health Protection and Promotion Act) they can put stricter restrictions on bars and you know something I wouldn’t disagree with that,” he said. “But that is strictly up to the local medical officers of health, if they want to do that by all means. You can’t put health ahead of the economy ever because without peoples’ health there is no economy.

Tory has said that some of the rules that could be implemented when Toronto does move to Stage 3 include the mandatory keeping of seating and customer logs for contract tracing for up to 30 days, capacity limits, rules requiring diners to wear masks when they are not eating and early closure times, at least at first.

“Indoor public settings such as bars and restaurants present a higher level of risk because they involve the three C’s of COVID19-transmission: crowds, close contact and enclosed spaces,” Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa warned on Monday. “It takes only one person with COVID-19 in this type of setting to potentially infect many others.”

While Stage 3 represents a much wider reopening of the province’s economy than Stage 2 a number of things will be remain closed for the foreseeable future, including amusement parks, nightclubs, karaoke rooms, buffet restaurants and table games at casinos.