'I can't wait': Ottawa residents eager to enjoy reopening

When the clock strikes midnight Friday, it’s not a pumpkin carriage some will be waiting for, but an end to months of shutdowns that closed outdoor dining and indoor shopping.

“I’m ready for that, I’m actually excited about that,” Ottawa resident Mohammed Addillahi said.

Like many, Addillahi and Kendrick Niyonkoru have been eagerly anticipating Ontario’s transition to Step 1 of the reopening plan; a move that will see the return of patio dining, indoor shopping at non-essential retail stores, outdoor fitness activities, day camps, and outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people.

“Of course, [I’ll go] with a mask, but yeah I can’t wait. It’s something new, it’s exciting, we can finally go out with friends with stuff. It’s going to be an amazing event,” Niyonkoru said.

The Premier's Office confirms to CTV News Ottawa that patios can reopen at 12:01 a.m. Friday and serve people up until 2 a.m. to get a head start on reopening.

The excitement is matched by positive trends in Ottawa’s daily case counts. For the second day in a row, fewer than 20 new cases of the virus were reported. The rate of COVID per 100,000 people is now just under 27, a stark contrast from the more than 200 cases per 100,000 people reported in April.

“I am [feeling] very comfortable. I think it’s important for us to slowly get back into it, so we can get back to normal,” Johanne Varve said.

Despite the positive signs, health experts are asking residents move into the reopening with caution.

“I think we’re at a point where we need to maintain some public health measures, especially masking and social distancing, and at the same time do vaccination because those two things are powerful tools to keep this virus in check,” Ronald St. John, former Director General of Emergency Response and Preparedness for the Public Health Agency of Canada said.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said he had some concerns about the potential for crowding in the ByWard Market and on city beaches during the reopening.

“The challenge is going to be, we saw it last time patios were open, people are so excited to get back into patio season they rush down, they don’t have an appointment or reservation, and they end up milling about. We don’t need that, we need people to spread out so they respect the social distancing,” he said.

Watson is urging people to make reservations if they plan to visit a patio those weekend to avoid crowding. He says Ottawa Bylaw and police will have an increased presence to make sure health regulation are being followed.

In a statement, Roger Chapman, director of bylaw services said the department is reviewing the provincial regulations and “planning resource deployment accordingly.”

Caution around Delta variant

Although many residents are excited by the transition into Step 1, some are concerned over the increasing spread of the Delta variant.

“I think people should be a bit patient and make sure, first of all, that we really understand the new strains, exactly how they affect, if let’s say you have one vaccination and not two, and even if you have two,” Michael Taft said.

The concerns are echoed by health experts across the country, although the risk posed by the new variant is hard to quantify.

“Watching the United Kingdom very closely, they’re having a slight blip upwards because of the spread of the (Delta) variant which is more easily transmitted apparently. We may get a blip; how big the blip will be is hard to say,” St. John noted.

Despite concerns, many residents say they’re eager to enjoy their new freedoms but won’t forget public health advice in the process.

“If you come with two people, three people, then stay with your group. Don’t mix it up with other people,” Addillahi said.

“The first reopening went crazy and everything shut down really fast. I’m not super worried because I feel like everybody understands that if you don’t follow the rules it’s going to shut down again,” Niyonkuru echoed.