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Several businesses allowed to reopen

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TORONTO — Garden centres, landscaping companies and auto dealerships were among a number of seasonal businesses Premier Doug Ford said are allowed to reopen today, as Ontario took further steps towards restarting its economy.

The decision was based on the advice of the province's chief medical officer of health, Ford said Friday.

“We're at an important starting point and we should take today as a sign," he said. "Today's news shows us that if we stay the course, if we stay vigilant and take the measured approach we can keep moving in the right direction.”

The businesses include garden centres that offer curbside pick-up, lawn care and landscaping companies and automatic car washes.

Auto dealerships can reopen but by appointment only, and marinas and golf courses can prepare to reopen.

All of the companies reopening on Monday, which also include essential construction projects, will have to follow strict health and safety rules, the premier said. Marinas and golf courses will also be allowed to start preparing to reopen, he said.

The Progressive Conservative government ordered most businesses to close in late March in order to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While other provinces have released plans with specific timelines for reopening in recent days, Friday's announcement was the first time Ontario had provided a concrete date for any non-essential businesses to open their doors.

Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli said the province is moving ahead cautiously to prevent jeopardizing progress and keep the rate of COVID-19 infection down.

“Easing the unprecedented restrictions our government put in place to save lives and stop the spread will be a complicated and difficult task," he said. "But Ontario's business community has risen to every challenge presented by COVID-19.”

Ford called the announcement a much-needed “glimmer of hope” that he believes in some cases will help the mental health of people across the province.

“In the coming days and weeks I'm hopeful that we'll meet more of our health targets," he said. "I'm very optimistic that in the near future we'll be able to announce that additional businesses will be able to open up safely. People are eager to get back to work, I know that.”

The announcement comes as Ontario reported 421 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, and 39 more deaths, while the growth rate of new cases moved slightly lower.

The number of confirmed cases in the province climbed to 17,553 on Sunday, an increase of 2.5 per cent over the previous day.

Ontario has now seen 1,216 deaths linked to the virus, many of which are in the province's long-term care homes.

The number of tests performed over the past 24 hours jumped by 3,604, to 16,532. Another 11,859 were listed as under investigation. The government had previously promised to reach 18,900 tests a day by mid-April.

Figures on COVID-19's impact in long-term care homes, which come from a separate database than the provincial numbers, show 26 more residents of those facilities died in the past day.

There are now outbreaks at 166 long-term care homes, up from 163 on Thursday.

Hospitalizations are up from 999 people to 1,017, though the numbers of people in intensive care and on ventilators declined for a fifth straight day.

On Friday morning, the head of Ontario's Chamber of Commerce called on the federal and provincial governments to place a moratorium on commercial evictions.

Rocco Rossi said while a previously announced federal program to provide some rent assistance to small businesses is a good first step, more urgent action is required.

“The challenge faced by small businesses today is immediate," Rossi said in a statement. "It is good that help is on the way, but for an increasingly large number of small businesses, the time they are being asked to wait will result in permanent closure.”

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