Ontario will enter the next phase of its reopening plan on Monday, as the province allows restaurants, bars, gyms and other facilities that require proof of vaccination to lift COVID-19 capacity restrictions.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced on Friday that businesses where proof of vaccination is required will be able to lift capacity restrictions that were put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He also detailed the government's plan to lift public health restrictions over the coming months, including the lifting of mask mandates on March 28 of next year.
"This is a cautious plan. It slowly lifts public health measures over time, allowing us to monitor any impacts on our hospitals and in our communities," Ford said at a press conference.
"It provides Ontarians and businesses with a certainty they need to make plans of their own. It will do everything possible to avoid broad lockdowns, while enabling a tailored and localized response."
The government will also allow other settings to forego capacity limits if they choose to require proof of vaccination. This will include personal care services; indoor areas of museums, art galleries and similar attractions; indoor areas of amusement parks, fairs and festivals; boat tours, and open house events provided by real estate agencies. The full list can be found online. It will not apply to settings where people receive medical care, medical supplies or food from grocery stores.
Many business groups have urged the provincial government to lift restrictions alongside the proof-of-vaccination system that was introduced in Ontario last month. Businesses have had to limit capacity to ensure customers maintain a distance of two metres between each other.
One of those groups, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), said it was “encouraged and relieved” that the province is lifting capacity restrictions, calling it “a crucial step towards economic recovery and levels the playing field between big and small business.”
“We hope this puts an end to government policies that favour large businesses, like big box stores or large sporting venues, over Ontario’s small businesses,” CFIB president Dan Kelly said in a statement.
“Today’s news is a positive step forward, but we aren’t out of the woods yet. As the federal government begins to pull back its wage and rent supports from many businesses, the Ontario government needs to step up and help small firms if we want to see a rapid economic recovery.”
The next steps for reopening
The lifting of capacity restrictions is a first step in the long-term reopening plan outlined by the province on Friday.
While the plan depends on various indicators including hospital stability, the government plans to lift capacity limits on remaining high-risk settings, including night clubs and wedding reception spaces with dancing, on Nov. 15.
By January 17, if there are no "concerning trends in public health and health care" the province will begin gradually lifting proof-of-vaccination requirements at restaurants, bars and other establishments. It will also begin lifting capacity restrictions in settings where proof of vaccination is not required. Proof of vaccination requirements will be lifted from other settings, such as night clubs and strip clubs, on Feb. 7.
By March 28, the government plans to lift remaining public health safety measures such as mask mandates, as well as lift requirements for proof of vaccination.
"While we are optimistic about the future, the province will continue to monitor this situation very closely, and we will respond quickly to protect Ontarians health should the need arise," Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said Friday.
The development comes as COVID-19 cases in the province remain under control. The Ontario Science Advisory Table released an update on its latest COVID-19 projections on Friday and said that cases are declining in most public health units, with hospitalizations and ICU occupancy stable.
"The combination of vaccination and continuing public health measures is controlling this pandemic wave," the Science Table said.
"Recent experience in other countries and Ontario modelling suggests that continuing some public health measures will let us maintain control of the pandemic as other factors – such as cold weather – increase the risk of a growth in cases, hospitalizations and ICU occupancy."
Ontario entered Stage Three of its reopening plan in the summer.
Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.