Cars drive along the highway as a sign reminds drivers to stay vigilant about the COVID-19 virus in Ottawa, Friday, March 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says Ottawa is ready to reopen restaurants, gyms and non-essential businesses, with the appropriate restrictions in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.

More than a month after the COVID-19 lockdown began in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford met with his cabinet on Friday to discuss what measures could be eased. Sources tell CTV News Toronto that Ontario is considering extending the stay-at-home order across the province after being urged to do so by public health officials. 

Sources say the cabinet was urged by public health officials to extend the stay-at-home order for at least one more week – until Feb. 16 – across the entire province. Health officials pushed for an additional two weeks – until Feb. 22 – in Toronto, Peel Region and York Region.

The Ontario government implemented a lockdown in Ottawa and across southern Ontario on Dec. 26. Ontario declared a state of emergency on Jan. 12, and introduced a stay-at-home order on Jan. 14.

During an interview on Newstalk 580 CFRA's Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron, Mayor Watson was asked if Ottawa is ready to reopen non-essential businesses next week when the stay-at-home order and state of emergency end.

"The numbers certainly indicate that, I think we're probably doing the best of any large city in Ontario. None of us are out of the woods, but I think we're in much better shape and that's why Council unanimously asked me to write to the premier to say 'if you're going to allow the big box stores to stay open with 25 per cent capacity, please allow the other small retailers to do the same thing,'" said Watson.

Ottawa's COVID-19 rate is at 30.5 cases per 100,000, while the positivity rate is 1.6 per cent for the period of Jan. 29 to Feb. 4.

Mayor Watson notes the COVID-19 numbers would currently fall under the "orange-restrict" zone in Ontario's COVID-19 response framework, keeping Ontario safe and open. In the "orange-restrict" zone, bars and restaurants may open with capacity limits, and gyms and non-essential businesses are allowed to open.

"We're technically, if you look at the numbers, in the orange zone, which would allow restaurants and gyms and retail operations to open with limitations, I think most people accept that," said Watson. "The capacity and the number of people at table, the distance, masks and so on. As you know that's a decision made by the province."

Watson sent a letter to Premier Ford last week asking Ontario to treat small businesses the same as big box stores. As of Friday, Watson hadn't received a response from the premier.

The mayor says Ottawa's COVID-19 numbers show residents are following COVID-19 protocols.

"We see our numbers in the double digits for the last little while, our percentage population numbers are down. We have actually followed the rules very well; there is always exceptions," said Watson. "Please do not have a Super Bowl party this weekend; this is not time to do it, stick to your household because we don't want to see a spike."

The Quebec government is allowing non-essential businesses to reopen on Monday, including hair salons and businesses. An 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew will remain in effect for Gatineau, and restaurants may only open for takeout and delivery.

"The challenge we have is, you've got a border town next door to us that will be opening up hair salons, and our barber shops and hair salons can't open up on this side," said Watson.

"We're actually doing better than Gatineau in terms of our numbers for the size of our city, a city of a million (people), you know I think that has to be taken into account as well."

Watson acknowledges the premier has a tough job, with Toronto and York Region still seeing high cases of COVID-19 and schools remaining closed.

Speaking with reporters earlier this week, medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches was asked about what she would look at to determine if non-essential businesses can reopen.

"I will be guided by the measures that tell us about COVID levels in our community and how the trends are going. They are looking good right now; we want that to continue because the lower we bring it, the easier it is to manage that level with our behaviours, with our public health actions," said Dr. Etches, noting Ottawa's COVID-19 wastewater numbers remain high.

The medical officer of health admits Ottawa must look at what is happening in Quebec and other areas of Ontario.

"We know we're all connected, so it does matter what's happening across the province, what's happening in Quebec," said Dr. Etches. "We want to take a look all around us as well as we think about the next steps. Certainly the province is going to take the lead here around the plan after the stay-at-home order, this 28 days, comes to an end."

REGIONAL REOPENING?

Eastern Ontario medical officer of health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis told CTV Morning Live this week that he expects Ontario to implement a regional reopening for non-essential businesses.

"I think looking at the numbers and looking at what is happening across the province, I would not say it for the whole province, though, because some areas are not as ready as eastern Ontario and Ottawa are. So I think that we need to have a regional approach," said Dr. Roumeliotis.

"I am optimistic that we will have some openings next week, again albeit there might be more restricted than previous but I think the numbers warrant it."

Dr. Roumeliotis said he expects there would be new restrictions on restaurants and gyms if they were allowed to reopen.

"I think that there would be more restrictions because we need to take this very carefully, particularly it's a double-edge sword here because we have these variants that are now in Ontario and we really want to make sure we don't give them any runway to start taking over as the predominant strain."

With files from CTV News Toronto Sean Davidson and CTV Queen's Park Bureau Chief Colin D'Mello.