Reopening Canada: A Guide for Non-Essential Retailers

Data suggests that Canada is beginning to flatten the curve. Some provinces have already loosened restrictions and have announced return-to-work plans for businesses. Provincial governments are working to develop  reopening  plans for businesses, which will likely be rolled out across a number of stages. We anticipate that some categories of non-essential retailers will be given the green light to reopen during the early stages of most of these plans.

As such, it is critical that retailers are prepared, and ensure that any reopening plan follows available guidelines. We have developed this guide to assist non-essential retailers with their gradual reopening plans, based on guidelines of provincial reopening plans. As the plans will vary province-by-province, it will be important to understand the guidelines in each province, and similarities and differences among them, to ensure efficient execution.

The following chart sets out key guidelines released to date for the reopening of non-essential retailers, and is not a list of every possible guideline or element. In addition, retailers that are also health care businesses and are permitted to open are advised to also follow the approved guidelines set by their professional colleges in order to open for business (which are not set out below). We will be updating this chart as reopening plans are announced or updated. Please click here for a PDF version and visit our COVID-19 Recovery Hub for regular updates.

For general guidelines applicable to all businesses, please see our COVID-19 recovery and reopening tracker.

British Columbia

Many businesses were not ordered to close, although some chose to do so.

Key Dates and Updates

  • April 22: Government wants to see “at least a couple of days” without any new COVID-19 cases before officials start easing restrictions.
  • April 29: The provincial state of emergency was extended for another two weeks.
  • May 4: Premier Horgan announces BC’s four phase “Restart Plan,” which will involve the government lifting restrictions on businesses in phases, gradually allowing for more social and economic activity. BC is currently in Phase 1, and will likely enter Phase 2 in mid-May. Under Phase 2, businesses ordered to close may reopen provided they work with WorkSafeBC to develop a plan to reopen safely.
  • May 19: A variety of businesses and services, including restaurants, cafes, retail stores, salons, and barbershops are allowed to reopen under enhanced protocols. See for example Guidance issued by the Government on April 25, 2020 for retailers and grocery stores.
  • May 27: The provincial government has extended the state of emergency for another two weeks. Public health orders remain in effect.

Workplace Safety Guidelines

  • When Phase 2 of BC’s restart plan commences, expected in mid-May, businesses that have been ordered to close, including hair salons, restaurants and pubs, will be asked to develop plans to reopen safely.
  • Any business restarting operations must ensure it is in compliance with the provincial health officer’s orders and in accordance with occupational health and safety guidance provided by WorkSafe BC.
  • WorkSafeBC has published a backgrounder for workplaces resuming operations during Phase 2 of BC’s Restart Plan. The backgrounder provides the following information:
  • Employers preparing to resume operations must put a safety plan in place that assesses the risk of COVID-19 transmission in their workplace, and develop measures to reduce these risks;
  • WorkSafeBC is developing industry-specific protocols and procedures, checklists, planning templates, education and training materials, signage and other tools as required;
  • WorkSafeBC will be engaging directly with employers and workers in returning industries through education, consultation and workplace inspections to support employers as they build their safety plan to return to partial or full operation.
  • Phase 3 will involve the opening up of additional businesses and services, such as personal services establishments, and is expected to start between June and September 2020, if transmission rates remain low or in decline.
  • Phase 4 will begin when there is a vaccine, a successful treatment, evidence of community immunity or equivalent.

Physical Distancing Guidelines

  • There will be a continued strong emphasis on personal hygiene, including hand washing, physical distancing and staying at home if you are sick at every phase of the Restart Plan.
  • Under Phase 2, small gatherings will be permitted.
  • Gathering of 50 persons or more is prohibited.

Alberta

Alberta officially began its “relaunch strategy”. All non-essential businesses remain closed and the state of emergency is still in effect.

Key Dates and Updates

  • May 1: Alberta began its “relaunch strategy” and has loosened restrictions.
  • May 14: Phase 1 will begin, but some COVID-19 restrictions will remain in place for Calgary and Brooks. On May 14, some retail stores (including clothing, furniture, and book stores) are allowed to reopen. Cafes and restaurants with no bar service are allowed to run at half capacity. Calgary and Brooks are allowed to rejoin the province in reopening parts of their economies on May 14 (with retail stores, specifically) but the opening of hairstyling services and restaurants in these areas has been pushed back until May 25.
  • If the first phase goes well, the next phase, which will include the reopening of movie theatres and spas could begin on June 19.

Workplace Safety Guidelines

  • Workers/patrons should be screened for COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Workplaces should have a plan to ensure that any worker/patron who has any COVID-19 symptom is not permitted into the workplace.
  • Businesses should follow cleaning and disinfecting practices and should keep a log of daily cleaning, regularly clean and disinfect any surfaces and equipment touched, and frequently sanitize washrooms.
  • Shopping baskets and carts should be disinfected between patron use.
  • Surfaces in change rooms should be cleaned and disinfected after each use.
  • Workplaces should keep and monitor an inventory of personal protective equipment to ensure workers always have access to appropriate protective equipment, if required.
  • Ensure staff are trained on hygiene, sanitation, and any updated policies or procedures related to preventing transmission of COVID-19.
  • Encourage proper hand hygiene and coughing and sneezing etiquette.
  • Ensure employees have access to hand sanitizer as required.
  • Allow staff to wear masks if preferred, even if a mask is not necessary for the work they are performing.
  • Stagger staff arrival and departure times, lunch times, breaks, and meetings to reduce the number of workers in one place at a given time.
  • Designate lockers and storage spaces to individual workers.
  • Encourage staff to launder uniforms between shifts.
  • Continue to follow existing occupational health and safety requirements.

Physical Distancing Guidelines

  • The limit for outdoor gatherings has increased from 15 to 50 people.
  • The limit for indoor gatherings still remains at 15 people.
  • Gatherings of fewer than 15 people must continue to follow personal physical distancing rules of remaining two metres apart.
  • Physical distancing requirements of two metres will remain in place through all stages of relaunch.
  • Working remotely continues to be advised, where possible.
  • Place appropriate signage around all entries and throughout the business outlining policies and procedures including physical distancing expectations, hand hygiene, coughing and sneezing etiquette, and cleaning and disinfection practices.
  • Make hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol available at as many of the following locations as possible: entrances, exits, escalators, change rooms, and checkout counters for the public.
  • Consider restricting and directing customer flow into and within the business.
  • Consider limiting the number of patrons allowed in the business at any given time.
  • Support vulnerable populations with access to dedicated store hours, delivery or curb side pickup.
  • Encourage patrons to exit the business as quickly as possible following their purchase or completion of their visit.
  • Encourage curbside pickup for online purchases.
  • Physically distance cashiers from patrons or install physical barriers.
  • Create markers to indicate where shoppers should stand while waiting in line to maintain physical distance.
  • Clean and disinfect touch screens at self checkouts between patron use.
  • Space out cash counters and self-service checkouts, when possible.
  • Ensure gloves are available for workers handling cash.
  • Offer and encourage online or telephone orders with delivery or pick-up services as alternatives to in-person shopping.
  • Update return policies to prevent the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to workers, volunteers, and patrons (eg., eliminating the opportunity to return purchased goods, cleaning and disinfecting hard-surfaced, returned good prior to placing them back onto the sales floor, and storing soft-surface items for a period of 24 hours prior to resale).

Saskatchewan

Provincial state of emergency is still in place.

Key Dates and Updates

  • May 4: The first phase of Saskatchewan’s five-phase reopening will begin (here); includes medical services and low-risk outdoor recreational activities
  • May 15: Golf courses reopen.
  • May 19: Retail stores and salon services will reopen (here).
  • June 1: Campgrounds will reopen.
  • June 8: Phase 2 will begin with retail stores, restaurants, beauty salons, and gyms reopening. Restaurants will be allowed to operate at half capacity and restrictions will also lift on some personal care services, child care centres, and places of worship.

Workplace Safety Guidelines

  • Ensure enhanced sanitization schedule.
  • Ensure staff are practicing proper hand hygiene (e.g., washing hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds).
  • Ensure employee and public washrooms are always well-stocked with liquid soap and paper towels, and that running warm water is available.
  • Provide clean carry-out bags for purchased goods; customers should be encouraged not to use their own containers, reusable bags or boxes.
  • Customers should be encouraged to minimize touching merchandise.
  • Post signs indicating that no customer packaging is to be used or placed on checkout counters.
  • Place an alcohol-based hand sanitizer approved by Health Canada in dispensers or soap and water hand washing stations near doors, pay stations and other high-touch locations for customers and staffs. Make wipes and trash bins available for wiping down carts.
  • Glove use is not required. If using gloves, they should be changed after every interaction and when changing tasks.
  • Ask customers who arrive with cold, influenza or COVID-19 symptoms to return home and use delivery service.
  • All workers should self-monitor for symptoms.

Physical Distancing Guidelines

  • On June 8, the government plans to increase its 10-person gathering limit to 15 people indoors and 30 people outdoors.
  • Customers should be encouraged to minimize touching merchandise. Post signs requesting them to only touch items they intend to buy.
  • Discourage the use of change rooms. If they are being used, ensure the surfaces are cleaned and disinfected between each use. Only allow 50 per cent occupancy (keeping every other change room vacant) to space out customers.
  • Discourage the exchange or return of goods. If goods are returned, where possible, clean and disinfect all surfaces of the merchandise or if the items cannot be cleaned and disinfected, isolate goods in separate bin (labelled with return dare) for at least 72 hours before being returned to store shelves. Employees must wash their hands after handling.
  • Where items are kept behind counters and provided to customers to try on and handle, such as jewelry and electronics, customers should clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer approved by Health Canada prior to handling the items. They should also avoid placing the items on or near their faces.
  • Use physical line controls and markers (e.g., tapes or cones) every two metres as visible cues.
  • Make announcements at regular intervals over the store speaker reminding customers to remain two metres apart.
  • Post clear signs in multiple locations indicating the maximum number of customers and staff allowed in the store at one time.
  • Consider monitoring the number of customers and staff entering and exiting the store.
  • Offer and encourage online or telephone orders with delivery or pick-up services.

Manitoba

The Government has announced a multi-phase reopening plan (here).

Key Dates and Updates

  • May 4: Phase One will start, including retail businesses, salons, restaurants for patio or walk-up services only (here).
  • May 22: Phase One began.
  • June 1: Phase Two begins. This second phase will include expanding the types of businesses that can reopen including pools, spas, gyms, and bars with restaurants allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity. 

Workplace Safety Guidelines

  • Staff must use the self-screening tool before coming into work (here).
  • Employees must stay home when ill and customers are not allowed entry if they are ill with COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Hand sanitizer must be available at entrances and exits for public and staff use.
  • Washrooms must be sanitized frequently; must have a regime for business sanitization in place.
  • Staff must be given information about physical distancing; businesses must post external signs re: physical distancing protocols.

Physical Distancing Guidelines

  • Maintain occupancy levels to allow staff and customers to maintain physical distance of at least two metres, except for brief exchanges.
  • Occupancy will be limited to 50 percent of normal business levels.
  • Floor markings must be apparent where service is provided or lines form.
  • Entry to business, including lines, must be regulated to prevent congestion.
  • Must maintain a single point of entry.
  • The limit on gatherings has been raised to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors.
  • Contactless/cashless payment should be used, where possible.

Ontario

All non-essential businesses remain closed and the state of emergency is still in effect. All emergency public health orders have been extended to June 10. Government has unveiled guidelines that businesses will need to follow for gradual reopening.

Key Dates and Updates

  • April 30: The Government unveiled guidelines that businesses will need to follow to protect employees and customers as the province works towards gradual reopening. Retail guidance documents can be found here: (1) Cashiers (2) Retail Sector (3) Retail General Labour.
  • May 4: Select businesses may reopen, including garden centres and nurseries with curbside pick-up and delivery only, automatic and self-serve car washes, and auto dealerships, by appointment only.
  • May 8: Garden centres and nurseries can provide in-store payment and purchases, operating under the same guidelines as grocery stores and pharmacies.
  • May 9: Hardware stores and safety supply stores can provide in-store payment and purchases, operating under the same guidelines as grocery stores and pharmacies.
  • May 19: All retail stores with a street-front entrance (no indoor malls) will be allowed to open, with restrictions to enable physical distancing.
  • May 27: The provincial government announced that non-essential health care services, such as dentists, optometrists, massage therapists, chiropractors, physiotherapists, psychologists, dieticians, and denturists, can reopen as soon as they have safety guidelines in place. 

Workplace Safety Guidelines

  • Cashiers: Increase airflow from open doors and windows; increase cleaning frequency; keep up with good hand washing and avoid touching face; hand sanitizer should be used frequently where washing is not available; consider the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) (e.g., gloves and goggles or face shields).
  • Retail Sector: Train everyone on COVID-19 safety measureMay 11: s; provide hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes for visitors to use when entering and on carts; provide a safe place for customers to dispose of used sanitizing wipes and PPE in parking lot; provide staff with hand sanitizer; have all employees and visitors wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer before entering, after contact with others, or with surfaces others have touched; sanitize the workplace thoroughly and often; sanitize surfaces and immediate area between each transaction if possible; screen workers regularly for health issues; introduce more fresh air by increasing ventilation system’s air intake or opening doors and windows; consider the use of PPE (e.g., gloves and goggles or face shields).
  • Retail General Labour: Use good hand washing techniques and avoid touching face; improve fresh air intake and air circulation with open doors and windows or fans; increase cleaning frequency; ensure all safety measures are communicated to staff; consider the use of PPE (e.g., gloves and goggles or face shields).

Physical Distancing Guidelines

  • Must restrict the number of customers in the store at one time by offering in-store by appointment and/or by limiting the number of people in the store at any one time. Retailers would need to restrict the number of customers per square metre – for example, one customer per 4 square metres – to ensure physical distancing of 2 metres at all times.
  • Only fitting rooms with doors would be used, not curtains, to facilitate disinfecting. Retailers would restrict use to every second fitting room at any one time to allow for cleaning after use and ensure physical distancing.
  • Cashiers: Encourage cashless payments; create potential barriers between cashiers and customers; everyone should maintain physical distance of at least two metres apart and control the number of customers in the store at a time; consider floor markings to show distance to be kept apart.
  • Retail Sector: Provide online ordering, delivery or curb side pick-up and eliminate at-door payment methods for deliveries; control how many customers enter at one time; manage traffic flow and physical distancing with measures (e.g., floor markings and barriers); consider ways to minimize contact with customers and maintain safe distance (at least 2 metres); consider minimizing or eliminating handling of cash; consider not accept reusable bags or containers; consider installing barriers between cashier and customer; consider ensuring customers use new bags only; limit the number of people working in one space; reschedule unnecessary visits to the workplace (e.g., by supply chain partners).
  • Retail General Labour: Integrate physical distancing in job activities; eliminate or minimize customer contact; control and limit the number of people in a workspace at one time.

Québec

The Government has announced a multi-phase reopening plan (French and English).

Key Dates and Updates

  • May 4 (outside Greater Montreal region) and May 25 (Greater Montreal Region): Retail stores having direct entrance access outside (including through a backdoor generally used for merchandise) and businesses which support the supply chain for retail businesses will be allowed to resume operations.
  • To date, the Government of Québec has not made any other announcement regarding malls, which will remain closed until further notice.
  • Retail stores, other than pharmacies, convenience stores and gas stations will remain closed to the public on Sundays at least during the month of May.
  • On Sundays, restaurants will be able to offer drive-thru and take-out orders and delivery, while grocery stores will only be able to offer online and phone orders and delivery.
  • May 22: Outside gatherings of up to 10 people of up to three different households are permitted. A two-metre distance must be maintained between people from different households.
  • June 1: Businesses outside of Montreal offering private health services and spas are permitted to reopen:
    • Oral care clinics and dental centres (all dental care);
    • businesses in the therapeutic care sector (eg., physiotherapy, osteopathy, occupational therapy, chiropractic, massage therapy, psychology, optometry, acupuncture, naturopathy, homeopathy, career counselling, social work, marital and family therapy, sexology, and other forms of therapy, nutrition, speech therapy and audiology, podiatry, other forms of alternative medicine, etc.);
    • Pet grooming; and
    • Businesses in the personal care and beauty sector (eg., hairdressing salons, barber shops, beauty centres, manicure and pedicure salons, hair removal services, skin care, tattooing, piercing, etc.).
  • June 1: For the Montreal region, only dental care, therapeutic care, and grooming for animals are permitted. 
  • June 1: Malls outside of the Greater Montreal Area can reopen, with physical distancing restrictions in place.

Workplace Safety Guidelines

  • Establishments will need to conform to sanitary measures decreed by the public health authorities and the CNESST (French and English), such as:
  • Screen employees and customers for symptoms of COVID-19 prior to entering the store (e.g., through a questionnaire); customers who present symptoms should be told to postpone their shopping and use alternative measures to purchase merchandise.
  • Remove non-essential items (e.g., magazines, newspapers) in common areas and disinfect tools used by customers for shopping (e.g., carts).
  • Inform customers, suppliers, subcontractors, and partners of the measures put in place to control risks (on a panel at the entrance of the store).

Physical Distancing Guidelines

  • Limit the number of customers and establish one-way traffic flow to preserve two-metre physical distance requirements.
  • Use signage (e.g., floor markings) to identify the two-metre physical distance near checkouts, at the entrance, and in fitting rooms.
  • Promote contactless payment and encourage customers to bag purchases themselves.

Newfoundland and Labrador

State of emergency remains in effect. All non-essential businesses remain closed.

Key Dates and Updates

To be updated when further details become available.

Workplace Safety Guidelines

To be updated when further details become available.

Physical Distancing Guidelines

To be updated when further details become available.

New Brunswick

Government loosened some physical distancing measures.

Key Dates and Updates

  • May 22: The province entered Phase 3 of its reopening plan, which is the final phase before the last phase of the plan, which will only be triggered when a vaccine is introduced. Phase 3 allows for the reopening of more businesses and the loosening of more restrictions on social activities.
    • Barbers, hairstylists, spas, estheticians, manicurists, pedicurists, tattoo artists, and other personal service businesses can resume in-person services as long as physical distancing measures are respected between appointments.
    • Non-regulated health professionals are also permitted to resume business.
  • May 27: The province partially rolled back its reopening plan in northern New Brunswick after a cluster of new cases emerged. Non-essential businesses that reopened have been shut again and activities that resumed have been ordered to stop in the Campbellton-Dalhousie region. Residents in this area are also urged to avoid contact outside of their "two-family bubble".
  • May 29: Additional restrictions are expected to be lifted. Gyms, yoga studios, dance studios, rinks, pool halls, bowling alleys, swimming pools, saunas, and waterparks will be allowed to reopen.

Workplace Safety Guidelines

  • Adopt a passive or active screening process for staff and visitors before they enter the workplace, including signage and self-screening surveys.
  • Face coverings are mandatory as an additional measure to protect employees, clients, and visitors when workplaces are not able to ensure two metres of physical distancing.
  • Keep visitor and employee logs for access points and have rooms where physical distancing is not possible.
  • Promote frequent handwashing. Ensure handwashing stations have adequate soap and both handwashing stations and sanitizer are readily available.
  • Adopt rigorous cleaning procedures. Evaluate the workplace for shared objects and common areas. Increase the frequency of cleaning of touched surfaces/objects, such as door handles, handrails, ATMs, etc.
  • Inform staff on proper coughing/sneezing etiquette (into your sleeve or into a tissue and safely throwing out the tissue).
  • Provide necessary personal protective equipment and training on the proper use and maintenance of the equipment.
  • Ensure all employees are fully aware of the preventative measures, and there are clear guidelines and instructions as well as enforcement of the measures. Employees must know how to lower their risk and what to do if that risk is compromised.

Physical Distancing Guidelines

  • Where possible, physically mark two-metre intervals.
  • A household "bubble" can be extended to "close friends and family" (with the Campbellton-Dalhousie region as a current exception).
  • Indoor gatherings are permitted but should be limited to no more than 10 people.
  • As of May 29, outdoor gatherings of 50 or fewer people are permitted with physical distancing in place.
  • Consider the installation of a physical barrier, if possible, such as a clear plastic guard, that may be used to protect workers from potential exposure.
  • Large public gatherings are prohibited through December 31, 2020, but this is subject to change.

Nova Scotia

State of emergency remains in effect. All non-essential businesses remain closed.

Key Dates and Updates

  • May 20: The Province announced that Nova Scotia will reopen the economy all at once instead of in stages, which could happen in early June. In order for the province to reopen, the number of new COVID-19 cases caused by community transmission must drop to few or no cases for at least two weeks before an economic recovery plan is implemented.
  • June 5: On May 27, the government announced that Nova Scotia's economy can begin to reopen on June 5 if businesses follow public health protocol. Businesses that will be permitted to reopen include restaurants for dine-in services, bars, wineries, distilleries, gyms, yoga studios, and personal services such as hair salons, barber shops, nail salons, spas, and tattoo parlours.

Workplace Safety Guidelines

To be updated when further details become available.

Physical Distancing Guidelines

To be updated when further details become available.

Prince Edward Island

All non-essential businesses remain closed but province will ease some public health measures.

Key Dates and Updates

  • May 22: Phase 2 began with some retail businesses reopening.
    • Retail outlets, greenhouses, barber shops, hair salons, massage therapists, acupuncturists, pet groomers, car washes, pest control businesses, cleaning and restoration services, construction and repair services are permitted to reopen with physical distancing measures in place.
  • June 1: Phase 3 will begin and will allow gatherings of up to 15 people indoors and 20 people outdoors. Dine-in services at restaurants will also resume at this time.
    • Restaurants will be permitted to open for indoor dining with public health restrictions in place.

Workplace Safety Guidelines

To be updated when further details become available.

Physical Distancing Guidelines

  • Outdoors, members of one household are permitted to gather with up to 10 people from different households with physical distancing measures in place.
  • Indoors, those gatherings are limited to five people from different households.

Notes

Please note: This information is a general summary only and is not legal advice. The application of these guidelines to individual worksites and environments will differ so we advise you to please seek professional advice and guidance.

Please follow this link for more detail on McCarthy Tétrault's Retail and Consumer Markets Group

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