All non-essential retail stores in Toronto and Peel Region are opening their doors to customers for the first time in months as the two COVID-19 hot spots move to the grey zone of the province’s tiered reopening framework.

With the exception of stores that offer essential goods, customers have been barred from entering shops in both regions since Nov. 23, purchasing items instead through curbside pickup or delivery.

Starting today, those stores can welcome customers inside once again but must only operate at 25 per cent of their regular indoor capacity.

Groceries stores, pharmacies, and convenience stores are permitted to operate at 50 per cent capacity in the grey zone.

The Ford government has also lifted stay-at-home orders in both Toronto and Peel Region and outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people are now permitted.

Mayor John Tory said the city is constantly assessing the situation to see how the virus is spreading in the community.

“We are watching it every day with a view to make sure we open further as soon as we possibly can with an eye always on making sure we avoid a further lockdown later,” Tory told CP24 on Monday.

Other regions of the GTA are in the red zone of the framework, which allows restaurants to reopen indoor dining with up to 10 patrons inside at one time. In the red zone, many other businesses, including gyms, hair salons, and other personal care services, are allowed to reopen.

“The case count numbers did pop up again in Ontario and we’ll see how they are today and tomorrow because we are watching this very carefully,” Tory said.

Ontario saw nearly 1,300 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday and more than 1,600 on Monday, the highest daily counts recorded in weeks.

Tory said public health officials are still concerned about how variants of concern are spreading throughout the region.

“Don’t forget a lot of the region did open up into the so-called red zone all around Toronto and many Torontonians we know from the phone data we’re going shopping in those areas so you sort of have to see did that cause any increase in the virus or the variants of concern.”

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, who initially advocated for her municipality to enter the red zone this week, says the trends are encouraging in her city.

"We are very close to the red zone here in Mississauga. Our numbers are down, our cases are declining... I'm watching it very closely this week. I see that our numbers have been declining further so my fingers are crossed. I'm very hopeful this week that they will look at Mississauga and perhaps allow us to reopen," she told CP24 on Monday.

"We are ready. It's spring. Everybody feels like we are ready for that safe reopening."

Some Toronto business owners have expressed frustration that more restrictions have been eased in neighbouring regions in the GTA.

Thanh Tran, owner of salon Roots & Tips near Yonge and Dundas streets, says it remains unclear how personal care businesses exactly how many cases of COVID-19 were transmitted through visits to personal care services.

"I think it is a little unfair... We've taken every precaution to make sure everybody is safe, taking down contacts," she told CP24 on Monday.

"We can limit the amount of people we interact with where as big stores, you don't know... nobody really keeps to social distancing."

Toronto still in 'precarious' situation, de Villa says

Toronto's medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, said Monday that she would like to see the city's cases per 100,000 and the city's reproductive rate decline before easing restrictions further.

Other factors to consider, she said, are what proportion of cases involve a variant of concern and how quickly vaccines can roll out to the community.

"These are the many indicators that we need to be looking at in order to assure ourselves that we are in a better place in order to reopen more fulsomely and to really start to restore life more to something like we knew before COVID-19 was around," she said.

"The idea is to make sure that as we start to emerge, and as hope becomes more of a possibility… that we will be able to see more activity return to our city."

De Villa said the city is still in a "very precarious situation" but there is the "hope of vaccines on the horizon."

"My plea to the people of Toronto is to continue to be vigilant around practicing self-protection measures. They remain one of our strongest defences against the spread of COVID-19 and the negative impact that it has on us," she said.

"Beyond that, as vaccine becomes more available, and as we are able to get more vaccine into arms, taking these two things together… this is what will see us through and towards the place where we all want to be, which is with COVID-19 in the rear view mirror."