Outdoor Patios Open on Yonge

Today feels like the real start of a bright summer, marking the gradual but reliable return to what we've been aching to do these past 15 months, hugging a grandchild or meeting a friend at an outdoor patio for dinner or a glass of wine. For a large number of local restaurants who've been struggling terribly through a series of intermittent partial openings, today couldn't arrive soon enough. This weekend should be a huge boost for many of them - and us too - with the launch of Willowdale's CafeTO outdoor patio program, which places restaurant tables in the Yonge Street curb lanes. Our community has this opportunity thanks to the formation of a new Business Improvement Area (BIA) on Yonge, from just south of Sheppard to just north of Finch. The BIA has shown tremendous leadership in pulling this program together in the very short time. Sixty restaurants have applied to take part; already 39 have been approved – some of which will open this weekend with others to follow within the next few weeks. Up to four people are allowed per table; they do not need to be members of the same household. In coming weeks, the maximum number per table will increase. The speed limit on this section of Yonge has been lowered to 40 km/h, and a special request has been made for enforcement. Here's some of what else is allowed, as of today: outdoor social gatherings and organized public events for up to 10 people; day camps; overnight camping at campgrounds and campsites; outdoor pools and wading pools; outdoor sports training, fitness classes and personal training up to 10 people; religious services, rites and ceremonies indoors at 15% capacity and outdoors with capacity limited by physical distancing of 2 metres. Unlike previous provincial re-openings which were short-lived, these measures have been strongly endorsed by a variety of health experts. They start with a mostly outdoor loosening of restrictions, in keeping with the greatly-reduced risk of contracting COVID outside, and their foundation is the high level of vaccination and falling case counts. Indoor re-opening is proceeding at a more cautious pace. As of today, essential retail capacity is at 25%, with non-essential at 15%. As more people receive first and second doses, a further re-opening is expected in two weeks. For a full list of what is expected to open when, see the provincial government's Roadmap to Reopening Ontario. Toronto's ongoing vaccination program (see article below), together with the Provincial restrictions, has been successful at greatly reducing COVID numbers almost everywhere in Ontario, dramatically so in Toronto which is down to 109 new cases today. We're at our best point since last September. That doesn't mean we don't still need to be cautious, especially indoors and especially if we are not yet two full weeks past our second vaccination. The Delta variant has demonstrated in the UK that it can spread very easily, especially among those who are not fully vaccinated. It has the potential to do the same in Ontario, the major reason why second doses are being moved forward as we are still trying to get first shots out. While you can start enjoying more of life, please continue to protect yourself by meeting anyone outside your household in small group, outdoors, and safely distanced.