Province releases plan to lift COVID restrictions

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The province of Ontario says it can see the light at the end of the tunnel for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The province announced Friday the release of its long-term reopening plan, which includes a gradual approach to lifting remaining public health and workplace safety measures by March 2022.

The province said the plan will be guided by the ongoing assessment of key public health and health care indicators and supported by local or regional tailored responses to COVID-19.

“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,” said Premier Doug Ford.

“This plan is built for the long term. It will guide us safely through the winter and out of this pandemic, while avoiding lockdowns and ensuring we don’t lose the hard-fought gains we have made.”

Ford said the province will “slowly and incrementally” lift all remaining public health and workplace safety measures, including requirements for proof of vaccination and wearing face coverings in indoor public settings, over the next six months.

The phased approach will be guided by the ongoing monitoring of key public health and health care indicators, such as the identification of any new COVID-19 variants, increases in hospitalizations and ICU occupancy, and rapid increases in transmission, to ensure that public health and workplace safety measures are lifted safely.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, Ontario has taken a cautious approach to reopening to protect the health and safety of Ontarians,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health.

“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.”

Key dates in the plan include:

  • October 25, 2021 

In response to continued improvements to key indicators, including ongoing stability in the province’s hospitals, effective October 25, 2021 at 12:01 am, Ontario will lift capacity limits in the vast majority of settings where proof of vaccination are required, such as restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments; indoor areas of sports and recreational facilities such as gyms; casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments; and indoor meeting and event spaces.

Limits will also be lifted in certain outdoor settings.

The province will also allow other settings to lift capacity limits and physical distancing requirements if they choose to require proof of vaccination, including:

  • Personal care services (eg., barber shops, salons, tattoo parlours);
  • Indoor areas of museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos, science centres, landmarks, historic sites, botanical gardens and similar attractions;
  • Indoor areas of amusement parks, fairs, rural exhibitions, festivals;
  • Indoor clubhouses at outdoor recreational amenities;
  • Open house events provided by real estate agencies; and
  • Indoor areas of photography studios and services.

Locations where a wedding, funeral or religious service, rite or ceremony takes place may also implement proof of vaccination requirements for services, rites, or ceremonies at the location.

  • November 15, 2021

The government intends to lift capacity limits in the remaining higher-risk settings where proof of vaccination is required, including food or drink establishments with dance facilities (eg., night clubs, wedding receptions in meeting/event spaces where there is dancing).

  • January 17, 2022 

As long as there are no “concerning trends” following the winter holiday months and after students returned to in-class learning, the province will begin gradually lifting capacity limits in settings where proof of vaccination is not required.

Proof of vaccination requirements may also begin to be gradually lifted at this time, including for restaurants, bars and other food and drink establishments, facilities used for sports and recreational facilities and casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments.

  • February 7, 2022

The government intends to lift proof of vaccination requirements in high-risk settings, including night clubs, strip clubs, and bathhouses and sex clubs.

  • March 28, 2022 

As of the last Monday in March, the province plans to lift any remaining public health and workplace safety measures, including wearing face coverings in indoor public settings.

Recommendations may be released for specific settings, if appropriate.

In addition, the provincial requirement for proof of vaccination will be lifted for all remaining settings, including meeting and event spaces, sporting events, concerts, theatres and cinemas, racing venues and commercial and film productions with studio audiences.

To manage COVID-19 over the long-term, local and regional responses by public health units may be introduced based on local conditions.

Public health measures that may be applied locally could include reintroducing capacity limits and/or physical distancing, reducing gathering limits and adding settings where proof of vaccination is required, among others.

Public health measures would be implemented provincially only in “exceptional circumstances,” such as when the province’s health system capacity is at risk of becoming overwhelmed or if a vaccine resistant COVID-19 variant is identified in the province.

“We are now in a position where we can see the proposed plan for lifting the remaining public health and workplace safety measures in Ontario,” said Dr. Kieran Moore, Chief Medical Officer of Health.

“The months ahead will require continued vigilance, as we don’t want to cause anymore unnecessary disruption to people’s everyday lives. We must continue to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in our communities by following the public health measures in place and by vaccinating those who have not yet received their shots.

“Ontario has the infrastructure in place to manage outbreaks, including a high-volume capacity for testing, and people to perform fast and effective case and contact management when needed.”

The powers to extend and amend orders under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020 are currently in effect until December 1, 2021.

The province will seek the legislature’s approval to extend these powers as authorized under the ROA in order to be able to maintain necessary public health and workplace measures until they are no longer needed.

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