By Allison Martell and David Ljunggren
TORONTO / OTTAWA (Reuters) – The Government of Ontario, Canada’s most populous province and industrial center, said on Monday that it would not start lifting restrictions to fight the corona virus over the coming weeks despite pressure from businesses to restart the economy .
Prime Minister Doug Ford said he could not provide a schedule to allow people in unimportant businesses to return to work until the number of new cases began to decline steadily.
“I will not set a difficult date until we are ready, because the virus moves at its own pace,” he said in a briefing.
About 14.6 million people live in Ontario, representing 39% of the country’s population. Together with neighboring Quebec, it accounts for 82% of 47,327 positive diagnoses.
Canada’s death toll grows by less than 10% for the eighth day in a row, reaching 2,617, official data show.
All 10 provinces have declared health emergencies, shutting down companies across the country and displacing millions of people.
Ford said he had been baked by business owners about when they could open again.
“I understand the pain that many companies and people experience and the pressure,” he said, then added that “we will not rush to do anything.”
Ontario plans to reopen in three stages, each of which first requires a consistent reduction in two to four weeks in the number of new cases.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters that the provinces coordinated with Ottawa on how to reopen the economy and stressed the need for extreme caution, given how little was known to experts about coronaviruses.
“I am sure every province takes this responsibility very seriously because no one wants to do all this without results,” he said.
In Quebec, primary schools and childcare services outside Montreal – the second largest city in the country – will reopen on May 11. In the Montreal area, elementary schools will reopen on May 19.
The presence of schools remains voluntary for students, Prime Minister Francois Legault told reporters, adding that high schools, colleges and universities would remain closed.
The increase in deaths on Monday was the lowest increase in days seen since casualties surged by 12% on April 19.
“Even though we are getting closer all the time, we have not been able to let go of the wheel,” said Canada’s head of public health officer Theresa Tam in a briefing.
(Reporting by Allison Martell and David Ljunggren; Additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Kelsey Johnson in Ottawa; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)
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