TORONTO — Ontario is announcing that some surgeries paused due to a surge in COVID-19 cases will start resuming on Monday.
Non-urgent surgeries were put on hold in early January to preserve hospital capacity, affecting an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 procedures a week.
A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott says today that some surgeries and procedures will resume in stages starting next week, as the province begins to lift some public health restrictions on businesses and social gatherings.
Alex Hilkene says the first stage will include pediatrics, diagnostic services, cancer screenings, some ambulatory clinics, private hospitals, and independent health facilities.
Premier Doug Ford announced last week that with public health indicators starting to show signs of improvement, some COVID-19 restrictions will be eased starting Monday.
Indoor social gathering limits are set to increase from five to 10, and restaurants will be able to reopen their dining rooms at 50 per cent capacity.
Theatres will also be able to reopen, and “spectator areas” such as arenas and concert venues will be able to welcome back up to 500 guests, with smaller venues limited to half capacity.
Initially, guests at such venues weren’t going to be allowed to consume food or beverages until the next phase of restrictions easing, currently set for Feb. 21, but now the government is permitting food and drink services at venues including indoor sporting events, concert venues, theatres, cinemas.
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Cineplex said it had worked closely with the province on the change.
“Movies and popcorn go hand-in-hand and we are so happy that our guests in Ontario will be able to enjoy the full big screen experience when our theatres reopen on Monday,” communications vice-president Sarah Van Lange said in a statement.
The province is also lifting a requirement for most businesses to collect information from customers for the purposes of contact tracing, as well as removing a legal requirement for employees to work from home when possible. The chief medical officer of health still recommends doing so.
There were 3,645 people reported to be in hospitals Thursday with COVID-19, and 599 in ICU. That’s down from 4,016 people hospitalized and 608 in intensive care units the previous day.
The province also reported 70 more deaths due to the virus.
There were 5,852 more COVID-19 cases reported Thursday, but Public Health Ontario has said the real case count is likely higher because of changes to the province’s testing policy.
Fifty-seven per cent of the province’s long-term care homes are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks.
Ontario isn’t reporting data on COVID-19 cases in schools, but there were seven schools closed because of COVID-19 operational impacts and 370 schools with student and staff absence rates of 30 per cent or higher.
— With files from David Friend