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COVID-19: Ottawa to move to Ontario’s red-control zone Friday morning

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COVID-19 restrictions in the nation’s capital will tighten Friday morning as Ontario moves Ottawa into the red-control zone of its reopening framework.

“Based on the latest assessment of data, Ottawa Public Health is being moved from its current level in the Framework to the Red-Control level effective Friday, March 19, 2021 at 12:01 a.m., as a result of worsening trends in key health indicators in the region,” the province said in an announcement Thursday.

Ottawa has seen surging levels of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. The rate of new coronavirus cases reached 49.1 per 100,000 people from March 10-16, while the coronavirus positivity rate in the city is up to 2.7 per cent as of Thursday.

Ottawa Public Health reported 83 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday as the number of active cases climbed to 627.

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Read more: Ottawa hits 450 COVID-19 deaths

Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, first signalled Tuesday afternoon that the city would likely move from orange-restrict to red-control to get COVID-19 levels back under control.

She told reporters Thursday afternoon that she “supports and agrees” with the decision to shift Ottawa into the red, as the “rate of COVID in the community is too high.” She also flagged that coronavirus variant cases are “growing exponentially” in the capital.

The province’s latest report on variants of concern (VOC) in Ottawa shows 188 cases have so far been positively screened for the presence of a VOC. Of those cases lated confirmed by lab testing, 14 cases have been confirmed as the United Kingdom variant B.1.1.7 while two cases have the B.1.351 lineage first identified in South Africa.

Etches also said Thursday that the level of viral signal detected in Ottawa’s wastewater system has again hit highs seen last October and January when the city faced spikes of COVID-19 cases.

Among the restrictions in Ontario’s red-control zone are limits of 10 people for indoor dining and in gyms. Movie theatres will also be forced to close to the public.

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While Etches acknowledged the frustration of residents and business operators, many of whom had already ordered food for the weekend in anticipation of weekend dining, she said the tighter restrictions are necessary to protect older, vulnerable residents and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.

She noted that 25 per cent of COVID-19 hospitalizations since December have been residents in their 50s, a population that likely won’t be slated for vaccination for many weeks to come.

Restricting businesses and returning to the behaviours that kept COVID-19 levels low in the past for a little while longer will help to avoid worse outcomes and tighter lockdowns as the vaccination campaign ramps up, she said.

“It’s not inevitable. We do not have to get into grey territory,” Etches said. “Earlier intervention means less restriction in the long run.”

Here’s a roundup of the rules under Ontario’s red zone:

Cannabis stores

Cannabis stores can be open.

Casinos, bingo halls, gaming

Casinos, bingo halls and gaming facilities can operate with caps of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors so long as physical distancing can be maintained.

Table games are banned.

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Liquor can only be sold and served between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. and consumption of alcohol is banned between 10 p.m. and 9 a.m.

Face coverings must be worn except when eating and drinking.

Facilities will be required to record contact information.

Cinemas, movie theatres, performing arts facilities

These facilities are closed except for drive-in cinemas. Rehearsals or performances being broadcast are allowed without spectators, and performers and employees must be two metres apart. Singers and musicians playing brass and wind instruments must be separated by impermeable barriers.

Meeting and event spaces

Venues can operate with caps of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors so long as physical distancing can be maintained.

The facilities must be closed between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Liquor can only be sold and served between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.

A maximum of four people can be seated together.

Face coverings must be worn except when eating and drinking.

Music volume must be kept as close to a normal conversation level as possible.

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Contact information must be collected and screening is required.

Personal care services

Oxygen bars, steam rooms, saunas, bathhouses and other “adult venues” must be closed. Sensory deprivation pods also are largely banned with limited exceptions.

If a service requires the removal of face coverings, it won’t be allowed.

Contact information must be collected and screening is required.

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Restaurants, bars, cafes

Establishments can operate with a cap of 10 people indoors so long as physical distancing can be maintained and screening of customers is conducted. Outdoor dining, takeout, delivery and drive-through businesses can operate.

Buffet-style restaurants aren’t allowed to open.

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For people who want to line up outside to get inside, they must wear face coverings and stay two metres apart.

The facilities must be closed between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Liquor can only be sold and served between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.

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A maximum of four people can be seated together.

Face coverings must be worn except when eating and drinking. Employees must wear personal protective equipment and eye protection if the come near customers who don’t have face coverings.

Music volume must be kept as close to a normal conversation level as possible. Dancing, singing and live music is banned.

Night clubs and strip clubs can only operate as restaurants and bars.

Schools and post-secondary institutions

Schools and daycare facilities will be allowed to remain open in accordance with previous reopening plans and adherence to evolving public health guidelines.

Note: A previous version of this story indicated post-secondary institutions could only be open for in-person instruction in limited circumstances. The province’s restrictions indicate this is only the case in the grey-lockdown zone.

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Shopping and retail

In-person shopping can occur, but supermarkets, convenience stores, pharmacies and other stores primarily selling groceries must cap the number of customers to 75 per cent of the approved capacity. For all other retail and big-box stores, there is a cap of 50 per cent capacity.

Safety plans, screening information and capacity limits need to be posted in a visible location.

Fitting rooms will need to be reduced so people are not changing in adjacent stalls.

For malls with indoor food courts, there will be a cap of 10 customers.

Music must be reduced to a normal conversation level.

Customers will need to maintain a two-metre distance and wearing face coverings in accordance with the existing regulations.

For people who want to line up outside to get inside, they must wear face coverings and stay two metres apart.

Curbside pick-up and delivery will continue to be allowed.

Social gatherings, religious services, weddings, funerals

Organized public events and social gatherings are capped at five people indoors and 25 people outdoors.

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For religious services, ceremonies and weddings, there will be an indoor cap of 30 per cent of the approved capacity and 100 people outdoors. Physical distancing must be adhered to.

Sports and recreation fitness

Two metres of physical distance must be kept at all times. The spacing must be increased to three metres in weight training and exercise equipment areas as well as during exercise and fitness classes.

Factoring in physical distancing, there is a cap of 10 people in indoor areas with weight and exercise equipment and during indoor classes. For outside classes, there’s a cap of 25 people. No spectators are allowed except for parents or guardians of participants under the age of 18.

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Team sports, games and scrimmage are banned except for training.

All activities where people might come within two metres are banned and no contact is allowed during team or individual sports. However, there are exemptions for high-performance athletes and for parasports.

For people visiting facilities, their visits must be capped at 90 minutes and face coverings must be worn except while exercising. Music must be lowered to regular conversation levels to prevent shouting.

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Contact information must be gathered and reservations will be required. Screening of participants will need to be done and associated safety plans must be posted in a visible location.

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