'It's just a sense of relief,' Barrie businesses prepare to reopen to in-store customers Friday

With just days to go until the province enters the first phase of its reopening plan, the Barrie Chamber of Commerce says getting to do so three days earlier than planned is "fantastic."

"You can just tell from the excitement from our restaurant owners with the patios starting to reopen," says Paul Markle, executive director of the Barrie Chamber of Commerce.

"It's just a sense of relief, sort of opening up that people are able to get to back to some sense of normal," Markle says.

While essential retail will see capacities set at 25 per cent, however, only 15 per cent will be allowed inside non-essential retail stores, and outdoor dining is limited, with four people permitted per table.

Markle says the businesses will have to "fight through" the next three weeks until the province enters phase two, adding "everyone will have to do their part," while hoping the Ford government reduces the timeframe between phases.

"We can't take the foot off the gas," he says.

"Things like the rapid screening program that we're involved in at the chamber, getting first doses out to those who don't have them, getting second doses into people that qualify and getting our younger generations vaccinated is going to be key to getting this under control and making sure than any variants don't get a foothold and that we continue to get close to back to reopening."

As of Tuesday, nearly 100 chambers across the province, including Orillia, Bradford, Clearview, and Barrie, have joined the rapid screening program. Collingwood is expected to come on board sometime this week.

Barrie implemented the program less than a week ago, and so far, more than 70 businesses have taken part in the free program, which is open to all businesses, not just chamber members.

The executive director believes the tests are a "game-changer" and says right now, the region is being "blanketed" with the free screens.

"It just adds that one layer of security into your protocols," says Markle.

"If your employees feel safe coming to work if your customers feel safe coming into your establishment, it builds confidence, and confidence is what we need."

For more information on the rapid test program, visit the Barrie Chamber of Commerce website.