Capacity limits are mostly being lifted by the end of the week, and proof of vaccination will be over by the end of the month even though masking rules are likely to remain for some time. This was the latest update from Premier Doug Ford and his team on Monday morning. After another weekend struggling to deal with the people who oppose all mandates, Ford tried to take back the narrative with some good news.
“The extraordinary measures that we introduced during this pandemic were always intended as a last resort. I stood at this very podium and promise you that these tools would only be used as they were absolutely necessary,” Ford said from his podium at Queen’s Park. “Over the weekend, I received recommendations from Dr. Moore on a plan to safely reopen our economy and remove Ontario’s vaccine passport system. I’ve accepted these recommendations.”
Those recommendations will start to be enacted this Thursday, about four days earlier than originally planned according to the next phase of the re-opening proposal announced last month. Starting on February 17, capacity limits will be lifted at most indoor settings including restaurants and bars; non-spectator areas in sports and rec facilities; casinos and bingo halls; meeting and event spaces; and, indoor areas that choose to opt into proof of vaccination requirements.
The 50 per cent caps will remain concert and theatre venues, as well as sports arenas. At the same time, high-risk settings like nightclubs and restaurants with dance floors, plus bathhouses and sex clubs, will be allowed to open up to 25 per cent capacity. Social gatherings will be allowed to up to a limit of 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors, and organized public events will be allowed up to 50 people indoors and no limit outdoors.
As of March 1, Ontario will announce the lifting of other capacity limits if “public health and health system indicators continue to improve,” and this will including the lifting of vaccine requirements for all settings, although some businesses could independently decide to leave them in place. One thing that will definitely be staying in place though is masking.
“Based on the advice of Dr. Moore, and what we have learned over the pandemic, we will need to keep masking in place for just a little bit longer. This is an important layer of protection that will allow us to proceed with a reopening plan safely,” Ford said.
“I agree with the Premier, all of the metrics are improving dramatically in terms of the number of people hospitalized, the number of people in the intensive care unit, and the percentage of tests that are positive, so we’ll continue to monitor those data sets, as well as the ongoing availability of PCR to make a decision on masking,” Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said about the end of mask requirements.
“As you know, we’ve always moved public health measures in the staged phase and evidence-based approach,” he added. “So we’re opening up on the 17th, and again on the first, and after that time period, typically, two weeks thereafter, we’ll review all of the data and make further decisions on any other public health measures.”
When asked point blank if he was playing politics with COVID restrictions, and aiming to avoid going into an election with COVID protection measures still in place, Ford vigorously refused the suggestion, and denied that the recent occupations in Ottawa and Windsor play any part in his decision.
“Despite the protestors, this plan was in place long before the protests were out there,” Ford said. “We’re going to move forward, we’re going to make sure that we get back to normal as quickly as possible despite the occupations, and we’re going to continue to focus on making sure that we have a safe environment for companies to do business and trade here in Ontario.”
In an additional announcement, the Province said that young people between the pages of 12 and 17 will be allowed to start booking booster doses this Friday so long as it’s been six months, or 168 days, since receiving the second shot of the vaccine.