More than two months after the Ontario government imposed strict restrictions aimed at combatting a strong third COVID-19 wave, the province is formally beginning the process of reopening amid a sharp drop in cases combined with rising vaccination levels.
As of 12:01 a.m. on June 11, restrictions that saw restaurant patios and non-essential retail shut down were formally dropped.
“I’ve been waiting for the longest time to finally go sit somewhere at a restaurant, socialize with people and actually finally eat at a table and not in a car,” Mani Kagner said moments after getting a table for a late sitting at Hemingway’s Restaurant and Bar in downtown Toronto early Friday.
“It’s one of the only places that we know of that are open tonight … it felt like New Year’s all of a sudden.”
Daimin Vodnar, the co-owner of the restaurant, told Global News hours ahead of the reopening that staff had to stop answering the phone due to the volume of calls.
“We’ve been closed long enough. We don’t want to stay closed any longer than we had to,” he said.
“We’re excited and anxious to go, and our staff are really excited to get their livelihoods back.”
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It was on May 20 when the Ontario government revealed its three-step roadmap for gradually reopening the entire province and its economy.
Phase one (primarily allowing retails and reopening more outdoor settings with restrictions) was set to begin as soon as 60 per cent of all eligible Ontario residents have received their first COVID-19 vaccine doses. The vaccines currently deployed across Ontario, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca, ultimately require two doses. As of June 10, more than 73 per cent of Ontario residents have received their first dose and 11.5 per cent of residents have received two doses.
For weeks officials have said hospitalizations, the number of people in ICUs and public health capacity will all be factored in the decision-making process dictating when Ontario would formally enter the plan. However, the exact thresholds needed for advancing through the plan haven’t been disclosed.
In the afternoon just ahead of the reopening, Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table reported intensive care unit admissions and hospitalizations have dropped sharply since the end of April where around 900 people were in ICUs. More recently that number dropped below 500, beginning to free up capacity to resume procedures impacted by record-high hospital admissions.
With Ontario officially in the first phase, a minimum of three weeks will need to pass and 70 per cent of all eligible Ontario residents will need to have their first COVID-19 vaccine dose and 20 per cent of residents will need to have the required two doses before moving into phase two (reopening more indoor settings on a smaller basis and expanding outdoor settings). Under the government’s regulations, the earliest move to Step 2 would be July 2.
After another three-week-minimum period, along with up to 80 per cent of residents receiving their first vaccine dose and 25 per cent receiving their second dose, more indoor activities will be allowed to reopen in phase three where masks can’t always be worn.
At the end of each phase, health system indicators will be reviewed before moving to the next step. Officials haven’t publicly indicated what will happen if there is a surge in cases, hospitalizations and/or deaths, but all have encouraged everyone eligible to get a vaccine to do so.
Here are the highlights of what’s allowed under the first phase:
– Outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people (a government spokesperson confirmed different households can mix)
– Patios with up to four people at each table
– Retail will begin reopening with a 15-per-cent cap for non-essential businesses, 25 per cent for essential retail
– Outdoor religious ceremonies and rites with capacity limits, capped at the number of people who can meet two-metre physical distancing requirements, receptions will need to follow gathering limits
– Indoor religious ceremonies and rites with 15 per cent of the approved capacity for the room being used, receptions will need to follow gathering limits
– Outdoor sports and training for up to 10 people allowed
– Day camps, campgrounds, Ontario Parks, horse racing, speedways, outdoor pools, zoos, splash pads allowed
Here are the highlights of what’s allowed under the second phase:
– Outdoor gatherings for up to 25 people, indoor gatherings for up to 5 people
– Outdoor patio tables will be able to have up to six people
– Non-essential retail capacity will be increased to 25 per cent
– Personal care settings with face masks worn at all times
– Outdoor meeting and event spaces, amusement parks, water parks, boat tours, county fairs, sports leagues and events, cinemas and arts venues will be allowed to reopen
Here are the highlights of what’s allowed under the third phase:
– Large indoor, outdoor gatherings and indoor dining
– Greater expansion of capacity for retail businesses
– Larger indoor religious services, rites and ceremonies
– Indoor meeting, event spaces
– Indoor sports, recreational facilities
– Indoor seated events, attractions, cultural amenities
– Casinos and bingo halls
– Other outdoor, Step 2 activities will be allowed to operate indoors