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COVID-19: Indoor dining, gyms and cinemas to reopen on Jan. 31 as Ontario moves to start lifting public health measures

Restrictions were imposed Jan. 5 to try to blunt what Ford called the “tsunami” of COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant.

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Ontario will start lifting pandemic restrictions on Jan. 31, allowing indoor dining at restaurants, gyms and cinemas to reopen, and increasing limits on social gatherings,  Premier Doug Ford announced Thursday.

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Restrictions imposed Jan. 5 to try to blunt what Ford called the “tsunami” of COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant had closed Indoor dining, gyms, cinemas and other venues.

Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott laid out Thursday what they called a gradual and cautious reopening plan.

By March 14, the plan calls for all indoor capacity restrictions to be lifted, but proof of vaccination requirements will remain.

Ford said the restrictions imposed earlier this month were always intended to be time-limited.

He said there are some positive indications the situation is improving in Ontario, although “we aren’t out of the woods yet.”

The rate of hospitalizations of people with COVID-19 has begun to slow and the test positivity rate has “stabilized” at 15.9 per cent, Ford said.

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The plan:

Jan. 31: 

  • The limits on personal gatherings will increase to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors (they are now at five indoors and 10 outdoors)
  • Capacity limits of 50 per cent will be required at restaurants, bars, sports and recreational facilities like gyms, movie theatres, museums, galleries and some other indoor public settings that had been closed
  • Spectator areas of facilities such as sporting events, concert venues and theatres can operate at 50 per cent seated capacity or 500 people, whichever is less

Feb. 21

  • Social gathering limits will be increased to 25 people indoors and 100 people outdoors
  • Capacity limits will be removed in indoor settings where vaccination is required, such as restaurants, indoor sports and recreation facilities, cinemas
  • Spectator capacity of  50 per cent will be allowed at sporting events, concert venues and theatres
  • Capacity limits in most other indoor public settings where proof of vaccination is not required will be limited to the number of people that can maintain two metres of physical distance
  • Indoor capacity limits will be increased to 25 per cent in the remaining higher-risk settings where proof of vaccination is required such as nightclubs, wedding receptions with dancing, bathhouses and sex clubs
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March 14

  • Capacity limits will be lifted for all indoor public settings, with proof of vaccination maintained
  • Remaining capacity limits will be lifted on religious ceremonies, rites or ceremonies
  • Social gathering limits will be increased to 50 people indoors, with no limits for outdoor gatherings

The news arrives a day after Elliott said the province is seeing “glimmers of hope” in the fight against the Omicron variant.

She said Wednesday that COVID-19 cases are expected to peak this month and hospitalizations and ICU admissions will follow.

The number of people admitted to hospital and ICU units is still rising but not as quickly, Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said on Wednesday.

New hospitalizations are now doubling every two weeks, said Elliott on Wednesday. The province recorded record-high numbers of people in hospital with COVID-19 this week.

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But infections caused by the Omicron variant are not as severe, so while there is high transmission of the virus in the community, proportionately fewer patients land in the ICU, Elliott noted on Wednesday.

Ontario reported 4,061 people in hospital Thursday with COVID-19 and 595 people in ICU.

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The province imposed restrictions on Jan. 5. In addition to closing some businesses and enforcing capacity limits, the province urged employers to allow their staff to work at home and announced that non-urgent surgeries would be postponed.

The re-opening of schools was delayed, but students returned to in-person classes this week.

Ford has said the goal of the restrictions was to slow the virus down enough to protect the healthcare system from being overwhelmed and allow more time for residents to get booster shots.

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Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore has said hospitalizations are the key metric that determines when regulations would be lifted.

On Wednesday he said the metrics used to make those decisions include “causative admissions” to hospital and ICU units; the length of stay in hospital; how many patients require mechanical ventilation; the capacity of healthcare institutions to cope given staff absenteeism; the number of outbreaks in long-term care homes; and the percentage of PCR tests that are positive.

Recently, the province asked hospitals to track data based on which patients were in hospital because they have COVID-19 and which ones were admitted to hospital for other reasons but tested positive.

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In other Ontario indicators, the province reported 75 new deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday.

There were 7,757 new cases reported, although Public Health Ontario cautions that is an underestimate because testing has been restricted to those at highest risk.

COVID-19 in Ottawa

Ottawa Public Health reported 84 people in hospital with active cases of COVID-19, including eight patients in intensive care.

There were 332 new cases reported Thursday.

OPH announced it would resume school vaccinations clinics Friday with rotations between 49 locations. The clinics are run after school and are drop-in only. Priority will be given to children age five to 11 and their families.

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OPH is closing the vaccination clinic at the EY Centre, with the last day of operation on Feb. 22.

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