Coronavirus: London-Middlesex moving to orange-restrict in Ontario’s pandemic response framework

The London, Ont., skyline, November 2020. Matthew Trevithick / Global News

The London and Middlesex region will see restrictions loosened for indoor and outdoor gatherings and businesses next week when it makes the move from red-control to orange-restrict in the province’s colour-coded COVID-19 restrictions framework.

The province, which determines the colour tier each public health unit falls under, announced the change Friday. It will take effect on Monday, March 1.

The region entered red-control when it returned to the framework on Feb. 16 from the provincewide shutdown and stay-at-home order.

Elsewhere in the London area, Southwestern Public Health, which includes Elgin and Oxford counties, will also move to orange-restrict, while Huron-Perth will move to yellow-protect.

Lambton County will remain in red-control as of next week. Lambton entered orange-restrict on Feb. 16 but was placed in red-control on Feb. 22 as a result of “worsening public health trends in the region” the previous week, according to the province.

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Under orange-restrict, capacity limits relating to indoor and outdoor gatherings, restaurants and bars, retail, sports and recreation facilities, and other sectors are increased, and cinemas and performing arts facilities are allowed to reopen to spectators.

In a snap media briefing on Friday, Dr. Chris Mackie, the region’s medical officer of health, said the shift to orange-restrict reflects the declining case rates in London-Middlesex.

“We’re another day without deaths, so we’re up to two full weeks with no new deaths in this community, which is a tremendous accomplishment,” Mackie said.

It’s something we absolutely should be celebrating as a community. And that celebration should not be in large numbers indoors. Let’s make sure we keep it as safe as possible.”

During the briefing, Mackie was asked why the region hadn’t been placed even further down the restrictions framework to yellow-protect given the lower case counts.

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Since Feb. 13, at least six days have seen fewer than 10 cases — tallies that have not been regularly recorded since late October and early November, health unit figures show.

At least two dates, Feb. 15 and 21, recorded just five cases.

“There’s definitely a science to this. We can look at the data and say, ‘Well, our cases are at yellow.’ There’s also an art which has to do with understanding human behaviour,” Mackie said.

“We have definitely seen that when people get the signal that everything’s fine, then behaviours tend to go back to the level of indoor interaction that really can accelerate cases.”

Mackie added that he had a conversation with the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, Tuesday night where they discussed “the pros and cons.”

He noted, however, that Williams makes a recommendation to the provincial cabinet who ultimately makes the final decision.

“There certainly is a case to be made to move us to orange, and there’s a case to be made to move us to yellow, and we both saw both of those cases being viable,” Mackie said.

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Certainly, having us at the orange level, if we do see variants of concern growing here, means that we are in a better position to try and minimize the impact of a variants of concern third wave.”

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The region has already confirmed at least 12 variant cases since mid-January, including four involving the B.1.1.7 variant, first detected in the U.K.

Projections released Thursday by the province’s science advisory group show more infectious variants of COVID-19 will likely make up 40 per cent of cases by the second week of March.

In addition to the changes for gatherings and businesses, the city notes the change to orange-restrict will also allow it to resume some sport programming and some in-person services.

City officials say it will begin offering increased capacity for certain recreation programs, and says a limited amount of new recreation programs will be offered starting next week. More information can be made public soon.

In addition, the city’s cat adoption centre and municipal shelter will reopen for in-person attendance, while the city clerk’s office says it will only issue marriage licences to people who are from London-Middlesex and not from areas in red-control or grey-lockdown.

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Below is a summation of some of the changes to expect as a result of the move to orange-restrict in London and Middlesex.

Full details can be found on the health unit’s website.

Social gatherings

Under orange, certain organized public events and social gatherings held in private residences, backyards, or parks, such as functions, parties, dinners, barbeques and wedding receptions, are limited to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors where physical distancing can be maintained.

For organized public events and gatherings in staffed businesses and facilities, the indoor limit is 50 while the outdoor limit is 100, where physical distancing can be maintained.

Under red-control, all organized public events and social gatherings were limited to five people indoors and 25 outdoors.

Despite the looser limits, the health unit stresses that people should stay home as much as possible and avoid social gatherings.

Restaurants and bars, retail, and personal care services

For local restaurants and bars, the move to orange means indoor capacity limits will be raised from 10 to 50, where physical distancing can be maintained.

Most other restrictions will remain, including hours of operation and table seating limits, and a ban on buffet-style service.

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Under orange, however, dancing, singing, performing music, and karaoke are permitted, but with restrictions.

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The health unit says “dancing, singing (except karaoke) and performing music is only permitted by a person or group under contract with the premises.”

Karaoke, meantime, is allowed with proper physical distancing, plexiglass or some other impermeable barrier, and increased cleaning and disinfection, the health unit says. Private rooms are not allowed.

Night clubs and strip clubs are still only allowed to operate as a restaurant or bar.

For retail, red-control capacity limits are removed, but stores must continue to have passive screening for patrons, according to the restrictions.

Restrictions for personal care services remain largely unchanged from red-control, but locker rooms, change rooms, and showers are no longer required to be closed.

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Sports, recreational and fitness facilities

For sports and recreational facilities, patrons must still maintain two metres of physical distance, but the rule is excluded for those engaged in a sport, according to the provincial guidelines.

In addition, overall capacity limits have increased, with a maximum of 50 people total now allowed in indoor areas with weights and exercise machines and all indoor classes.

The province notes, however, that each indoor class is limited to a maximum of 10 people and must take place in a separate room.

The health unit also notes that capacity limits in community centres and multi-purpose facilities apply to each room that is physically separated from other rooms.

Visits are still limited to 90 minutes, except if engaged in a sport, the health unit says, and mask or face coverings may be removed when exercising.

The health unit says for recreational fitness and exercise classes, capacity limits are 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors, and physical distancing of three metres between patrons must be ensured for areas where there are exercise or fitness classes.

Instructors of any class, organized program or organized activity must wear a mask or face covering, the health unit says.

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Team and individual sports must be modified to avoid physical contact, and the limit is 50 people per league with no play against teams in other leagues.

Participant limits for team or individual sports are capped at 12 participants per group.

The health unit says the maximum number of people permitted on a field of play is 25 people, including staff, referees and/or instructors.

For team sports where substitutions are required, a limit of 12 players are allowed on the roster.

“For individuals who are not actively participating in the program or activity, a physical distance of two metres must be maintained between each participant,” the health unit says.

Spectators are still prohibited, and those not actively participating in rigorous physical activity should wear a face covering or mask.

Meeting and event spaces, casinos, bingo halls, and gaming establishments

Meeting and event spaces will be allowed to have a maximum of 50 people indoors or 100 people outdoors, where physical distancing can be maintained.

The province notes, however, that established limits relating to wedding, funeral, religious services, rites or ceremonies also apply if held in a meeting or event space. (Thirty per cent capacity of the room indoors, and 100 people outdoors).

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Booking multiple rooms for the same event is not allowed, the provincial guidelines say.

Most other restrictions will remain in effect, including for hours of operation and alcohol consumption.

Casinos, bingo halls, and gaming establishments are also allowed a maximum of 50 people per facility permitted, where physical distancing can be maintained.

Table games are still prohibited.

Other restrictions remain in place.

Cinemas and performing arts facilities

Under orange-restrict, local cinemas and performing arts facilities will be allowed to reopen to spectators for the first time since the region first entered red-control in mid-December.

Cinemas will be limited to 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors per venue, where physical distancing can be maintained, and face coverings are required except for when eating or drinking.

The same capacity limits are in place for performing arts facilities, which are also required to separate singers and players of wind or brass instruments from spectators by plexiglass or another impermeable barrier.

Performers and employees must maintain two metres of physical distance except for purposes of the performance, the province says.

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In both cases, liquor can only be sold or served between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. and consumed up until 10 p.m.

Also allowed to resume under orange are real estate open houses, provided that agencies ensure the total number of people permitted does not exceed 50, where physical distancing can be maintained.

More information can be found on the health unit’s website.

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