Capacity limits will be lifted for Ontario bars, restaurants and gyms beginning 12:01 a.m. Monday as part of the province’s plan to move out of Step 3 of its COVID-19 reopening plan.
Premier Doug Ford made the announcement alongside Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health and Christine Elliott, minister of health at Queen’s Park on Friday.
Elliott called the announcement a “milestone” for the province.
Casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments as well as indoor meeting and event spaces will also be able to lift their capacity limits Monday.
The province also noted other settings that can drop limits in the event their guests provide proof of vaccination including museums, galleries, religious services, tour and guide services and personal care services, barber shops, salons and body art.
Ontario’s proof of vaccination certificate went into effect on Sept. 22. The province’s enhanced COVID-19 vaccine certificate with QR codes came into effect Friday.
Critics and those in the affected industries had been calling on the province to loosen restrictions and lift capacity limits, especially after the vaccine certificate went into effect.
Restaurants Canada, which was angered when capacity limits were lifted on large venues ahead of small businesses such as restaurants, said it was pleased with the plan.
“We thought we should have been open two weeks ago, but we’re happy that it’s finally here and restaurants will work throughout the weekend to make sure they’re ready to open fully by Monday,” said James Rilett, the group’s vice-president for Central Canada.
He said it’s heartening that restaurants are set to have the requirement for proof of vaccination lifted before other establishments.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business also said it was glad to see the playing field levelled, but both organizations called on the government to provide more supports for businesses to implement the vaccine certificate system.
However, other high-risk settings such as night clubs, strip clubs, bath houses and sex clubs will only be allowed to lift their capacity limits on Nov. 15.
“Thanks to our cautious and careful approach to re-opening, we are now in position to gradually lift all remaining public health measures over the coming months,” Ford said, emphasizing the province will continue its slow and cautious approach as cases and hospitalizations continue to decline.
Ford said he wants to do everything possible to avoid broad lockdowns, and if any public health measures need to be brought back in place, it will be done in a localized way.
Targeted and local measures could include re-establishing capacity limits or distancing requirements, requiring proof of vaccination, reducing gathering limits, and recommending or requiring that people who can, work from home.
In updated modelling projections on Friday, the province’s science table said worst case scenario for Ontario is around 700 cases per day by end of November, with the best case seeing around 200.
Moore said Ontario is trending below the national average.
The province’s reopening plan also highlighted when vaccine certificate requirements may be lifted in the “absence of concerning trends.”
On Jan. 17, 2022, restaurants, bars, sports and recreational facilities, casinos and bingo halls can cease to check vaccination certificates.
On Feb. 7, 2022, night clubs, strip clubs, bath houses and sex clubs can stop.
Finally, on March 28, 2022, meeting and events spaces, sporting events, concerts, theatres, cinemas, racing venues and commercial and film productions with studio audiences can stop checking vaccine statuses.
Furthermore, the province said beginning March 28, “all remaining public health and workplace safety measures in businesses and organizations” will be lifted, including masking. However, recommendations will be made as to where masking should be maintained, such as on transit.
Emergency orders under the Reopening Ontario Act will also be revoked.
“Our plan will ensure we replicate this success and take a gradual approach that will protect our health system capacity, prevent widespread closures, keep our schools open and support the province’s economic recovery,” Elliott said.
The province previously paused plans in mid-August to exit Step 3 of its reopening framework as fourth-wave cases were rising.
There are more than 10.9 million Ontarians fully immunized with two doses, which is 83.6 per cent of the eligible (12 and older) population. First dose coverage stands at 87.7 per cent.
—With files from The Canadian Press
Timeline of loosening restrictions
Monday, Oct. 25
Capacity limits lift in most settings where proof of vaccination is required, such as restaurants, gyms, casinos and indoor event spaces.
Capacity limits lift in other settings if they choose to require proof of vaccination, such as personal care services _ including salons and tattoo parlours _ indoor areas of museums and galleries, amusement parks, festivals and real estate open houses.
Locations where weddings, funerals and religious rites take place can also implement proof-of-vaccination requirements for services and ceremonies.
Monday, Nov. 15
Capacity limits lift in remaining settings where proof of vaccination is required, such as night clubs, wedding receptions in indoor event spaces, strip clubs, bath houses and sex clubs.
Monday, Jan. 17
Capacity limits begin lifting in settings where proof of vaccination is not required, depending on the COVID-19 situation.
Directives from the chief medical officer of health may also begin to lift.
Proof of vaccination limits may begin to lift.
Monday, Feb. 7
Proof of vaccination requirements may be lifted in high-risk settings such as nightclubs and bath houses, unless it’s deemed unsafe.
Monday, March 28
Remaining public health measures may be lifted unless it’s deemed unsafe, including mask mandates.
Remaining proof-of-vaccination requirements may also be lifted in remaining settings, including meeting and event spaces, concerts and cinemas.