Ontario’s restaurants, gyms and theatres will welcome patrons back today for the first time in nearly a month.
It’s the first step in the province’s three-step plan to gradually ease public health restrictions meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Restaurant dining rooms, gyms and cinemas will reopen at half capacity today after being shuttered on Jan. 5 due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Museums, casinos, galleries, aquariums, zoos, science centres, landmarks, historic sites, botanical gardens and similar attractions can also open indoors at 50 per cent capacity.
Fergus Lally, a trainer and owner of the CrossFit UV gym in Markham, said a number of happy customers showed up to work out at his gym early Monday morning.
“It’s nice to see a lot of people come in [with] smiling faces,” Lally said in an interview on CBC’s Metro Morning. “I think I speak for all small businesses … even though this doesn’t mean a return to full capacity, it’s nice to start to get things back to normal. Hopefully, it’s more positive signs from here on out.”
Capacity limits increased, but restrictions remain
Retail stores, including grocery stores and pharmacies, as well as shopping malls, can operate with 50 per cent capacity indoors.
Larger venues, including sports and fitness facilities, concert venues and theatres can reopen with capacity limited to 50 per cent or 500 people — whichever is fewer.
Limits on indoor gatherings will increase from five people to 10, while the cap on outdoor gatherings will go from 10 to 25.
The City of Toronto says it will resume many services and reopen facilities, including community recreation centres and arenas, fitness centres and classes, indoor pools, indoor skating rinks, and arts and sport drop-in programs.
In addition to capacity limits, businesses will continue to be subject to a number of restrictions. For example, customers at concerts, theatres and cinemas will be required to remain seated. Singing and dancing won’t be allowed in restaurants and bars, except by workers and performers.
Proof of vaccination will continue to be required to enter most businesses.
The province plans to ease COVID-19 measures further on Feb. 21.
Ontario reported 3,019 hospitalizations as a result of COVID-19 on Sunday, with 587 people in intensive care units across the province.
Sunday’s reported figure is down by 420 from Saturday’s 3,439 hospitalizations and Friday’s 3,535. However, not all hospitals report COVID-19 data on the weekends.
Indicators heading in right direction, scientific director says
Dr. Peter Jüni, scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said many of the province’s key indicators, including test positivity rate, wastewater surveillance and hospital occupancy, are heading in the right direction.
“It’s all good news — we are ready for this step,” said Jüni.
Despite those positive signs, Jüni’s said the number of people who have received their third dose of vaccine is too low, which could pose a challenge in the coming weeks as the province continues to gradually ease restrictions.
As of Sunday, 91.8 per cent of Ontarians aged 12 years of age or older had received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 89.2 per cent had received two. A total of 6,357,416 people had received their third dose.
“It’s really important, especially for people in their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s to get their third dose because we have a lot of people who are vaccinated with two doses and these people all need additional protection to keep the strain in our hospital low, but also to benefit themselves from the improvement in prognosis,” Jüni said in an interview on CBC’s News Network.
“We really have a ‘fallen asleep’ situation regarding the rollout and there is capacity.”
Jüni said increasing the number of people with three doses will make high-risk public settings safer. He has been calling on the province to change the definition of the term “fully vaccinated” from two to three doses.