After being teased through several media sources of Wednesday night, Premier Doug Ford announced (on time) on Thursday morning that the re-emergence from lockdown will begin on January 31. The phased approach will see three-weeks between the initiation of each part of the plan, which Ford and company believes will give Ontario the best strategy to manage both the virus and the economy.
“Per cent positivity has now dropped to 15.9 per cent, new admissions to hospitals are starting to slow, patients are spending far less time in the hospital when admitted, and our health system workforce is stabilizing with more people coming back to work than calling in sick,” Ford said.
“As I said at the time, while necessary, these additional measures were always intended to be time limited. They were one more tool to blunt the spread of Omicron and protect our hospitals,” he added. “The evidence tells us that these measures are working, and that we can expect recent trends to continue as Omicron cases peak this month.”
Starting one week from Monday on January 31 at 12:01 am, the gradual opening will begin with restaurants and bars (without dance facilities), malls, retailers, meeting and event spaces, cinemas, performance venues, gyms and rec facilities, museums, casinos and tourist attractions up to 50 per cent capacity. Spectators will also be allowed for sporting events, concert venues and theatres up to 50 per cent capacity or 500 seats, whichever is less. Capacity limits for social gatherings will be allowed for 10 people inside and 25 people outside.
You next have to mark your calendar for February 21, when capacity limits will go up to 25 people indoors and 100 people outdoors, and capacity limits will be removed for restaurants, indoor sports and recreational facilities, cinemas, and other venues that required proof of vaccination. At the larger venues, capacity will still be capped at a straight 50 per cent, while there will be a capacity limit of 25 per cent for high risk settings like nightclubs, bathhouses and sex clubs.
After that, the third and last step will be on March 14 with the lifting of all capacity limits, and increasing the limit for indoor social gatherings at 50, and not putting any limits on outdoor gatherings.
“We need to remain cautious, especially with students going back to class this week, and I know there may be some who say we’re moving too fast.” Ford said. “We want to be absolutely sure these positive trends continue as we move forward, and we want to do everything humanly possible to avoid having to go backwards. If that means pausing between steps for a few extra days, we won’t hesitate to do so.”
While Ford struck a cautious tone, he also said that, “We can be confident that the worst is behind us.” He also said, “The coming weeks will continue to pose real challenges, especially to our hospitals, but these are challenges our hospital system can manage.”
This news from Ford and the government comes on the same day that Public Health Ontario reported 75 new COVID deaths in the province, the highest number of fatalities announced in one day in nearly a year. There are also now over 4,000 COVID-19 patients in Ontario hospital, which is an increase of over 400 people since last Thursday, but the Minister of Health said again that the signs are there that we’re rounding the curve with Omicron.
“There are some positive signs that we may be reaching the peak of the Omicron wave in Ontario, however we still need to remain humble and cautious,” Christine Elliott said. “As we start to see some hopeful signs and begin to ease measures, I want to remind Ontarians how grateful we are for their sacrifices to keep one another safe, and to our healthcare workers, pharmacists and other essential workers. It has been a long and difficult road through this pandemic, and it cannot be emphasized enough how indebted we are to you.”
In the media availability after the announcement, Ford and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore were asked about the Province’s plan last fall to end all COVID-19 restrictions by this spring. The Omicron variant was the party blamed, and the fact that nobody saw it coming, which made Moore explain that the government will have to be nimble to prepare for any new development with the pandemic.
“We have to be adaptive to any new variant, and Ontarians have done that for Omicron. We do see light at the end of this phase of the pandemic as the premier has outlined, and we do see hope that the sacrifices have been worth it by the businesses affected,” Moore explained. “Now that we’ve anticipated the health system being able to provide the right care at the right time for all patients in Ontario, we’re absolutely prepared to remove the measures in a cautious and gradual stage and phased approach.”