The Ontario government has announced a major boost of maximum COVID-19-related capacity limits at major outdoor and indoor sporting venues, such as the Rogers Centre and Scotiabank Arena in downtown Toronto.
“With public health and health-care indicators currently stable and proof of vaccination now in effect, we are able to recommend cautiously easing capacity limits in certain settings,” Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said in an update Friday afternoon, noting the increases will mostly be in places where vaccine proof is required.
“Increasing capacity limits does not mean we can let our guard down. We must remain cautious and humble in the face of this Delta variant.”
Moore said the revised rules will take effect as of 12:01 a.m. on Saturday.
At indoor meeting and event spaces (convention and conference centres, banquet halls etc.), theatres, cinemas, concerts, sports events, racing venues and commercial TV and film shoots with audiences will be able to increase the number of people in attendance to up to 50 per cent of approved capacity or 10,000 people (whichever is less).
For outdoor event spaces where it is standing room only for patrons, up to 75 per cent of approved capacity or 15,000 people (whichever is less) will now be allowed.
When it comes to outdoor event venues where people are seated, up to 75 per cent of approved capacity or 30,000 people (whichever is less) can now be accommodated.
Officials said seated outdoor venues can see higher numbers of people because mobility is less and therefore it reduces the risk of potential transmission of COVID-19.
The announcement came just a day after the Toronto Blue Jays announced the release of additional seats for the final six home games of the regular season, citing ongoing discussions with Premier Doug Ford’s office and Moore. The team said the increase would be in line with public health measures.
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In an update right after Moore’s announcement, the Jays announced the 500L section at the Rogers Centre would be reopening to visitors now that up to 30,000 fans will be permitted to attend.
The current capacity limit at the Rogers Centre under Ontario’s COVID-19 regulations is 15,000 fans. At Scotiabank Arena, the limit was capped at 1,000 fans. Both venues have vaccination policies in place.
When Moore was asked why he is recommending these changes now, he said the COVID-19 situation in Ontario has been stable for several weeks and the province needs to have a “balanced and proportionate public health response” to the pandemic.
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“For the majority (of attendees), they will be protected through vaccination, they will be wearing masks, they will be screening and monitoring for any symptoms … and I do think that is a much safer environment that we can start to safely and cautiously open,” he said, calling the recent implementation of vaccine certificates a “game-changer.”
“We’ll monitor these caps over the coming weeks to make sure this process remains safe. I’m confident that we can do this safely, and slowly, and cautiously because we all need balance. We’ve made sacrifices over the last year and a half and so have these businesses, and I think this will allow them to open safely and not be sources of infection or outbreak.”
As for how long vaccine certificates will be needed to access many indoor public settings, Moore suggested the program could be in place until the winter.
He went on to say as part of the provincial government’s gradual approach to reopening, it will assess other settings where capacity limits could be eased. He also pointed to early modelling on cases that suggested there could be a sharp rise of cases after Christmas.