Some eastern Ontario regions set to reopen worried about visitors from Ottawa

Ottawans are being asked to stay put as nearby public health units are set to reopen restaurants, salons and gyms.

'The number one thing they should do is not come to our areas to make it worse for us,' says Belleville mayor

Some eastern Ontario regions will soon be moving to the green phase of Ontario's COVID-19 restrictions framework, allowing for restaurants, gyms and salons to reopen. (Paul Smith/CBC)

Ottawans are being asked to stay put as nearby regions are set to reopen restaurants, salons and gyms.

On Wednesday, Hastings Prince Edward Public Health, Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health and the Renfrew County and District Health Unit move into the green category of the province's colour-coded reopening framework, the least stringent in terms of COVID-19 restrictions.

The stay-at-home order will be lifted then in those health units as well.

On Monday, the province announced the order will remain in place in the rest of Ontario until Feb. 16, when it could be lifted in 28 more public health units depending upon COVID-19 trends at the time.

Dr. Robert Cushman, medical officer of health for the Renfrew County and District Health Unit, said the status has been well-earned, with few cases currently in the region.

But he said there are concerns being so close to Ottawa and the likelihood that residents in the city will be eager to travel to enjoy some of the freedoms Renfrew County has earned.

"We hope that people respect the fact that the two regions are different currently," he said, adding that he's encouraged by Ottawa's COVID-19 case numbers trending downward.

"I would just say, 'Look, this is a matter of patience. You know, you've done a good job so far. Just hang in there and when the day comes, to support your own merchants,'" Cushman said.

Medical Officer of Health for the area Dr. Robert Cushman reacts to the province’s announcement that his region will loosen restrictions. 8:11

Ottawa likely to follow next week

Belleville Mayor Mitch Panciuk said he's discouraging his residents from having any visitors from regions outside their own.

While Belleville's council doesn't have the power to restrict travel, Panciuk said they are limiting who has access to city property, allowing only those from regions in the green, yellow or orange phase to use the city's facilities.

Non-essential retailers in the grey zones will be allowed to open their doors with a 25 per cent capacity limit once the stay-at-home order lifts. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

"I'm sorry for those residents that live in larger urban zones, but the number one thing they should do is not come to our areas to make it worse for us and put us in the same boat," he said.

While taking reporter questions Monday evening, Ottawa's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches said she appreciates people's patience but they should continue to stay home as much as possible.

"Travelling is something that we discourage and it's because certainly we don't always know what happens when you're travelling. If you're going to come into a situation where you come into close contact with someone else, it can increase the risk of transmission," Etches said.

Etches said looking to next week, it's possible Ottawa will be in the orange phase, the same level the city was in last fall.

In that phase, people would be allowed personal gatherings of ten people indoors and 25 outdoors, restaurants and bars could reopen with limited capacity, as well as fitness facilities.

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