The Ontario government is moving the province into Step 3 of the COVID-19 reopening plan nearly a week earlier than the previously expected date, officials confirmed Friday.
The province will move into Step 3 on Friday, July 16 at 12:01 a.m., five days ahead of schedule. Ontario was originally slated to move into the next step on July 21.
Step 3 of the reopening plan focuses on expanding indoor settings and further bolsters outdoor settings. Here are the major changes that will come into effect when the province enters Step 3:
- Up to 25 people can attend indoor gatherings and public events
- Expanded capacity for religious services, rites, ceremonies
- Indoor dining now allowed with no capacity limits except for keeping two metres apart from other tables
- Sports and recreational fitness facilities can operate at maximum 50 per cent capacity, 50 per cent of spectator capacity allowed up to 1,000 people
- Meeting and event spaces can now operate with up to 50 per cent capacity or up to 1,000 people (whichever is less)
- Personal care services that require masks to be removed, capacity restricted to two metres of physical distances
- Casinos, museums, aquariums, landmarks, galleries, fairs, amusement parks capped at 50 per cent indoor capacity
- Concert venues, cinemas, theatres can now operate with a cap of up to 50 per cent capacity indoors or a maximum of 1,000 people (whichever is less)
- Real estate open houses capacity expanded to people who can stay two metres apart
- Nightclubs, strip clubs can now operate with up to 25 per cent capacity or a maximum of 250 people (whichever is less)
- Gatherings and organized public events up to 100 people allowed with limited exceptions
- Spectators for outdoor sports and recreational activities are capped at 75 per cent of approved capacity or 15,000 people (whichever is less)
- Casinos, museums, aquariums, landmarks, galleries, fairs, amusement parks capped at 75 per cent outdoor capacity or a maximum of 5,000 people (whichever is less) for unseated events, up to 75 per cent of capacity of 15,000 people (whichever is less) for events with mixed seating
Masks and face coverings will remain in place in indoor public settings throughout Step 3, officials said, as will physical distancing requirements. Some outdoor public settings will also require mask wearing, the government added.
Safe to move to next reopening step
The move also allows for concerts, theatres and sports facilities to operate at 50 per cent capacity inside, with a max of 1,000 people. If outside, they can run at 75 per cent capacity with a max of 5,000 people for unseated events and 15,000 people for events with fixed seating.
Nightclubs will also be allowed to reopen, with a maximum of 250 people or 25 per cent capacity. The province says patrons are exempt from physical distancing requirements when dancing, but that face coverings must also be worn and businesses must record the name and contact information of every patron.
The provincial mandate for masks indoors will remain in place until at least September.
Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, detailed the coming changes at a news conference Friday afternoon.
Dr. Moore, who said as recently as June 30 that he wanted Ontario to stay in Step 2 for at least three full weeks, said today that with falling case counts and high vaccination rates, he believes it is safe to move forward earlier than planned.
“Our immunization strategy is working really, really well,” he said. “I didn’t see any reason to hold us back”
Ontario was originally slated to move to Step 3 on July 21, but the province has passed its COVID-19 vaccination target for entering Step 3, with nearly 79 per cent of adults vaccinated with one dose and more than 50 per cent fully vaccinated as of Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters briefly at a mass vaccination tour in Brampton on Friday, Premier Doug Ford said the province has a “very strong plan” when it comes to easing restrictions.
“We will have this province booming, similar to what we had before,” he said.
Concern about variants
Despite the progress, Dr. Moore said he remains concerned about the presence of the delta and lambda variants of concern.
“Certainly the pandemic is not yet over,” he said.
Delta is currently the dominant strain in the province. Six cases of the lambda variant have been confirmed so far.
Dr. Moore said that reaching a remaining 10 to 15 per cent of adults who have not had a vaccine but could be open to one remains a priority for health officials, especially given the risks posed by the variants.
According to a government news release, the province will stay in Step 3 for at least three weeks, and “until 80 per cent of the eligible population aged 12 and over has received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 75 per cent have received their second, with no public health unit having less than 70 per cent of their population fully vaccinated.”
“Upon meeting these thresholds, the vast majority of public health and workplace safety measures, including capacity limits for indoor and outdoor settings and limits for social gatherings, will be lifted,” the release said.
Dr. Moore said he believes the thresholds are realistic.
“The goals we have set are, I think, attainable”
Ford agrees. And though he said he is “very grateful” to those who have been immunized, he’s encouraging anyone who is eligible and hasn’t yet been vaccinated to book an appointment.
“I’d love to see 100 per cent, but 80 per cent of a population of 15 million is pretty good,” Ford said Friday.
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