LONDON, ONT. -- As COVID-19 cases in southwestern Ontario decrease, anticipation grows for Friday's announcement from the province on restriction zones.

"We are optimistic and hopeful we are going to orange, as I'd be happy to see people dining in here again," says Lily Aboumourad, manager of the St. Thomas Roadhouse restaurant.

Both the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) and Southwestern Public Health (SWPH) reported case counts below 17 per 100,000 population on Feb 17.

Judging by the provincial COVID-19 response framework, those numbers indicate both regions should jump to the yellow-protect zone.

"Given the province's cautious approach due to the COVID-19 variants, and our recently very positive numbers, we anticipate a move to the orange zone," said Megan Cornwell of SWPH via email.

Restaurants have struggled over the past year with lockdowns and customer restrictions, so Aboumourad is anxiously awaiting Premier Doug Ford's next announcement.

"I would love yellow because it would mean we could have as many as we want in here as long as they are safely distanced. However in orange we'd go from seating capacity of 10 to 50. It would help our staff because we'd have more people working and more hours for everyone."

At Joe Thornton Community Centre, the St. Thomas Minor Hockey Association (STMHA) resumed limited programming when the province lifted the lockdown last week. They are expecting to expand activities by next week.

"We can offer way more under a different colour," says Joe Doyle, president of STMHA.

"It’s no longer 10 skaters on the ice and it means we can resume using dressing rooms. It would make a huge difference, when we can have a whole team instead of only 10 skaters."

Joe Doyle
St. Thomas Minor Hockey Association President Joe Doyle on Feb. 24, 2021. (Brent Lale/CTV London)

St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston is also anticipating a move in colour with his community lowering numbers by the day. SWPH is reporting no new cases for the second time in three days.

"Twenty-six (active) cases in SWPH, and four in St. Thomas are fantastic numbers and we should be proud of what we have gone through to get us to that level," says Preston, who urged caution if the medical officer of health does give the area an upgrade.

"It’s a reward for hard work done, but let’s not think that's a free for all. It’s another level, but we should follow same rules. Stay home, sanitize, wash your hands, and do the things that got us to this level."

Preston not only wears the title of mayor in St. Thomas, but he is also a restaurant owner. He's taken a hit with little to no indoor dining over the past year.

Aboumourad agreed it's been extremely difficult. "We've had to go through a lot," she says.

"There were questions where you don't know if you are going to make it. Unfortunately we had to lay off employees who have been like family to us, and it’s been incredibly difficult. I think we need a bit of a reward now for our hard work."

Ford typically makes an announcement on Friday with changes likely to take effect on Monday.

The full list of zones, criteria and the rules under each colour are available here.