Early Step 3 thrills Ottawa business owners but reaction mixed among health experts

Anticipation and excitement is growing in Ottawa with a move to Step 3 of Ontario’s reopening plan now less than a week away.

At the top of the list — indoor dining, which will resume for the first time in months.

“We’re extremely excited, this is the first time we get to showcase what we really meant to do in this room,” said Andres Quervo, Executive Chef of Apothecary.

While many restaurants will be reopening Friday, Apothecary in the ByWard Market will be welcoming people inside for the first time ever — having launched just weeks ago amid the pandemic.

“You walk around, you see all these amazing places gone; they haven’t been able to survive. Being able to build while we wait this out, it’s been great, and now we’re more excited than ever,” said Quervo.

Along with indoor dining, a move to Step 3 means larger gatherings indoors and out, gyms will reopen, movie theatres too, and retail stores will have no capacity limits.

The move to the last step of the province’s reopening plan comes five days ahead of schedule. And while for many it’s an encouraging sign, some experts say it’s too soon.

“Delta is not impressed with what we’re doing. It just stays there, at about 150 cases a day. We don’t want the delta (variant) to start to take off. Just stick to the plan, it’s about sticking to the plan, two-and-a-half to three weeks between steps,” Dr. Peter Juni, scientific director of Ontario’s science table, told CTV News Friday.

Still, others say with more than half of adults in the province fully immunized and case number remaining low, the move makes sense.

“When we look at the metrics that matter, hospitalizations and health-care capacity, pace of vaccination, and the burden of COVID-19 in the community, it’s fair to say we’re doing really well. We’re gradually moving from pandemic to endemic,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, Infectious Diseases Physician and member of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine task force.

As businesses across the city and province prepare for the slowest step toward normalcy since the start of the pandemic, there is hope this is the beginning of the end.

“I don’t think businesses owners have been this excited in a very long time. This is the hope that so many have been looking for. We’re definitely on the track to recovery, definitely on the track to bettering everybody’s lives as we go along,” said small business advocate Michael Wood.

Ontario is set to enter Step 3 at 12:01 a.m. Friday, July 16. The province said we will remain in this step for at least 21 days. After that, vaccination coverage will determine when the remainder of restrictions will be eased.