TORONTO, May 19 (Reuters) - Select retailers and auto dealerships in Ontario opened their doors to customers on Tuesday after two months of lockdown aimed at preventing the spread of new coronavirus, with industry groups bracing for a slow return to normal business activity.
Canada’s most populous province and the country’s economic engine is reopening its economy in three stages, after first shutting down its economy in mid-March.
The province had recorded 1,904 deaths as of Monday, second-largest outbreak in Canada.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced last week that stores with a street entrance can reopen, but only by following strict social distancing norms, including installation of plastic barriers around checkouts, providing staff and customers with hand sanitizer, and limiting the number of people allowed inside at a time.
Allowing retailers to reopen is the least the province can do, and most retailers will do so, said Diane Brisebois, president of the Retail Council of Canada. But even after they open, supply chains and purchasing will still be disrupted.
“They may be able to open their front door, but they’ll have nothing to sell,” Brisebois said.
The retail and auto sector has been hard hit by the pandemic. An April survey from the Canadian Auto Dealership Association found that 87% of dealerships in Canada saw a revenue decline of over 30%.
Construction workers and employers “in large part” are looking forward to going back to work, said Patrick Dillon, secretary-treasurer of the Ontario chapter of Canada’s Building Trades Union.
Although there are still concerns about the presence of the virus in communities, Dillon said, “we have a pretty stellar track record of non-infection” on construction sites that stayed open for the duration of the lockdown.
Businesses will also be responsible for sourcing personal protective equipment (PPE) for their staff. The province has set up a website where employers can search for vendors of PPE. ($1 = 1.3971 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by Moira Warburton; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)