In a news release issued on March 19, outdoor dining will be allowed so long as restaurant operators adhere to physical distancing rules and restrict the patrons at a table to members of the same household. People who live alone and caregivers can join with another household for dining.
Indoor dining remains banned in grey lockdown regions.
Officials also announced restaurants in the red control and orange restrict levels can operate at up to 50 per cent of approved capacity (with a maximum of 50 people and 100 people, respectively) for indoor dining.
Similar to the new grey lockdown level rules, indoor dining tables are limited to those from the same household with exemptions for people who live alone and caregivers can join with another household for dining. Physical distancing will also need to be adhered to.
The changes will take effect at 12:01 a.m. on March 20.
The statement said the “cautious” moves are being made “to support the province’s economic recovery” even though it was noted there has been a rise in variant spread.
“While some regions are proceeding to levels with less restrictive measures and adjustments are being made to dining capacity, everyone must continue to adhere to all public health and workplace safety measures,” Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said in the release.
“We have entered the third wave of the pandemic and the rates of variants of concern continue to rise so it is important that people remain cautious and vigilant in order to minimize the transmission of COVID-19 and protect themselves and their communities.”
As of March 19, restaurants in grey lockdown regions were only permitted to have takeout and delivery services and establishments in red control regions could operate with a maximum of 10 people.
Dr. Nathan Stall, a physician at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, said while officials have to balance difficult considerations when it comes to restrictions, it’s risky to loosen things up with variants spreading, hospitals under pressure and vaccinations not happening quickly enough to protect the most vulnerable.
“These kinds of moves … end up promoting people being mobile and gathering and having opportunities to transmit COVID-19. We’ve seen it before,” Stall said in an interview.
“This leads to a predictable rise in cases and then predictable downstream impacts on our health-care system, which ultimately then lead to blunter and lengthier lockdowns.”
Meanwhile, eight regions are changing levels in the response framework on March 22.
People who live in the Brant County, Chatham-Kent, and Leeds, Grenville and Lanark public health unit regions will be moving to the red control level of restrictions. Residents in the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph public health unit region will be moving to the orange restrict level. Those who live in the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addiction, North Bay Parry Sound, Porcupine, and Timiskaming public health units will be moving to the yellow protect level.
— With files from The Canadian Press