The Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) is among those in the province that will see the additional relaxing of restrictions as part of the province’s Phase 2 Stage 2 reopening plans.
While local politicians described the measures as “balanced” and “measured,” concerns were also raised about the possibility of residents of areas facing stricter restrictions travelling to the region to get their hair done or visit a splash pad, for example.
“I’ve said all along that my primary concern has been the health and safety of Londoners because, like all of us, we want the economy to reopen as soon as possible but it must be done in a way that is careful and sustainable,” London, Ont., mayor Ed Holder said during a media briefing on Monday afternoon.
“The last thing that anyone wants is to reopen too quickly, experience a surge in cases, followed by a second shutdown. I’m confident that the outline featured by the premier today allows for large portions of London’s economy to reopen in a safe and sustainable manner.
“What doesn’t change, cannot change, is our collective and ongoing commitment to physical distancing, hand sanitization, and use of masks or other PPE.”
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In late May, Holder signalled he was strongly against a “regional reopening” approach, stating, “opening up as a regional attraction doesn’t work.”
When asked on Monday if his position had changed, Holder said he still has concerns.
“Particularly when you imagine that within an hour to an hour and a half, we have literally millions of people that can come into our community,” he explained.
“My comments don’t change. I think there is a concern as any community that will be allowed to reopen would share those concerns. So what do we do? We do the very best that we can. We’ve never been able to and should never be able to stop people from coming into our communities or us going to other communities.
“But I think to the extent that we’re able to provide any clarity around what local expectations are, I think that’s helpful.”
MLHU medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie added that, so far, most of that kind of tourism “with respect to the very high risk areas in the GTA” involves people heading north, not south.
“It is a concern and it’s something we’ll need to to watch closely,” he noted.
“At the other side of the coin is that we know that maintaining closures of the economy has health impacts. When you are isolating people, there are mental health impacts. Depriving people of income and employment — these are two of the most important determinants of your overall health. And so as as we reopen the economy and give people better access to employment and income, that has health benefits as well.”
Locally, Elgin-Oxford, Huron-Perth, and Chatham-Kent are among the regions allowed to enter Phase 2 Stage 2 on Friday.
However, the City of Toronto, most of the surrounding GTA and GTHA, Windsor-Essex, and Sarnia-Lambton are among those not yet deemed safe enough to reopen further for Friday. There are reports they may be allowed to begin the process once the provincial-wide emergency orders are lifted June 19.
Both Holder and Middlesex County warden Cathy Burghardt-Jesson urged area residents to support local businesses as they begin reopening.
“What is really important as this Phase 2 goes and opens, we need all Londoners to come in and support those businesses as they open. They are in challenged situations. If we’ve ever needed Londoners to support our own, it’s absolutely now,” said Holder.
“Buy your pet food locally, don’t order it from Amazon. Jeff Bezos doesn’t need your money,” stressed Burghardt-Jesson.
“I don’t think there was any surprise here, and I don’t think anybody will be scrambling. I know in talking to our local businesses, this is what they’re working towards. You know, hopefully they’ll be in a position to open the doors on Friday, if not certainly within the next 10 days they will be.”
Mackie added that the announcement should be cause for celebration.
“We in Middlesex and London have been able to take up public health recommendations in really robust way for many months and that has paid off. I think all of us owe a duty to thank each of the people who’s been able to contribute to that over the last few months,” he said.
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— with files from Global News’ Jessica Patton.
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