Sources tell Global News the Ontario government will announce plans to exit Step 3 of its COVID-19 reopening plan late next week.
A source, not authorized to speak publicly, said the first phase of the plan will determine when capacity limits can be lifted for the remaining venues, such as restaurants, that are already under a proof-of-vaccination policy.
A revised plan is expected late next week that will be a pathway to exiting the Roadmap to Reopen in Ontario, the source said.
Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, held his weekly COVID-19 update Thursday afternoon. He was asked about when he thinks capacity limits could be lifted for restaurants and when the provincial proof of vaccination system could become voluntary.
“We are going to take a slow and steady approach to the removal of any public health measures over time, based on the data at hand,” he said.
“We still have to monitor for the effects of the Thanksgiving weekend.”
He said health officials, in partnership with the government, are working providing advice on a schedule to further lift public health measures. He said that schedule will be provided to the government next week.
“All of these decisions are always the final decision of government, but we think our plan is a slow and steady approach as Ontario has always done. It has brought us great success as a province,” Moore said, adding that case trends, hospitalizations, and test positivity rates continue to be considered when adjustments to health measures are made.
“Right now, all of those metrics look very, very good. And hence I think it’s a realistic and reasonable conversation to have with the community at large of what would be our vision to remove public health measures over time,” he said.
Moore said the proof of vaccination system will eventually be phased out but that likely won’t happen until the effect of the upcoming holidays are known.
Moore was also asked about whether restrictions could be lifted across the province on a regional basis. He said there are “significant regional differences” across the province now and noted higher vaccination rates in some areas compared to others.
“As a result, I do think going forward we will have less provincial measures put in place, but regional responses to put out any activity in any localized community,” he said, noting that his office already does regional consultations with local medical officers of health. He said test turnaround times are rapid and contact tracing is “working well.”
“That process of regional limitation of the spread of the virus is working and it certainly is my hope that we don’t have to impose any further restrictions at a provincial level,” he said.
Last Thursday, Moore announced plans for Thanksgiving and Halloween but made no mention of capacity limits.
Just ahead of the Thanksgiving long weekend, on Friday, the government lifted capacity limits for cinemas, theatres, spectator sports venues, concert venues, meeting and event spaces, horse racing and car racing tracks. These venues were allowed to operate at 100 per cent capacity as of Saturday.
For those venues, the government said it made the changes based on high vaccination levels, stable public health indicators and the vaccine certificate requirements that took effect last month.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce said they didn’t understand why capacity limits could be lifted on those large venues, but not at small businesses such as restaurants and fitness studios.
The CFIB says small business owners are wondering why the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators can pack in fans at full capacity, while a bowling alley can’t open more than half of its lanes.
Moore was asked during Thursday’s press conference why Scotiabank Arena can open with 20,000 fans, but a restaurant can’t open at full capacity.
“I like what Dr. Juni had said in that one space where you’re having appropriate screening, cleaning, vaccine management and good ventilation, known air exchanges, etc., as compared to those 20,000 people spread across multiple different establishments across a city — the risk is different,” he said.
Moore noted that evidence from around the world, prior to proof of vaccine measures, showed restaurants, clubs and nightclubs were high-risk venues.
“With that body of evidence, that was a strong instruction in terms of prioritization of what to avenues to open first,” he said.
Moore said so far, there hasn’t been evidence of large COVID-19 spread in large venues since they reopened and as a result, decided to lift their capacity limits.
He said they continue to examine evidence to support the further reopening of establishments like restaurants.
“I think we’ll be providing that evidence base to government next week and stay tuned,” he said.
The province came up with a three-step plan in the spring/summer for reopening. Ontario has been in Step 3 since July 16.
According to the provincial website on “moving beyond the roadmap,” the majority of public health measures from Step 3 will be lifted. This includes removing capacity limits, removing limits for social gatherings and organized public events, and removing requirements such as active screening of patrons and workers.
However, it also states a small number of measures will remain in place, for example, masking, passive screening such as signage, collecting patron contact information and a safety plan.
— With files from Matthew Bingley and The Canadian Press