gathering limits ontario

Ontario just put a strict limit on social gatherings so cancel those Christmas and NYE plans

Social gathering limits are coming back across Ontario in a big way as cases of COVID-19 skyrocket and the Omicron variant threatens rapid spread, ensuring another holiday season devoid of large Christmas dinners and New Year's Eve parties.

As of Sunday, Dec. 19 at 12:01 a.m., indoor social gatherings will be restricted to a maximum of 10 people. Outdoor social gatherings can hold up to 25 people, though health officials are encouraging everyone to minimize social contact where they can in the coming weeks.

"Throughout this entire pandemic, we've never faced an enemy like Omicron given how quickly it spreads," said Premier Doug Ford when announcing the restrictions late Friday afternoon.

"We need to do everything we can to slow its spread as we continue to dramatically ramp up capacity to get as many booster shots into arms as possible. Doing so is the best way to safeguard our hospital and intensive care units."

According to the province's own Science Advisory Table, Ontario could be seeing roughly 10,000 new cases of COVID-19 per day by Christmas without further restrictions thanks to the highly-transmissible nature of Omicron.

Government officials say that, while the timing isn't ideal, the new restrictions coming into effect on Sunday are critical to help protect Ontario's hospital and ICU capacities.

"This was not an easy decision to make before the holidays, but the evidence is clear that further public health measures are required to slow the spread of Omicron and prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed," said Minister of Health Christine Elliott on Friday of the move.

"As we expand booster eligibility and continue our Team Ontario effort to get as many shots into arms as possible, I am urging every single person to get their vaccine if they haven't already done so, and sign up for their booster shot as soon as possible."

Fortunately for those needing a third dose, the province is expanding eligibility to all adults 18 and over starting this Monday, Dec. 20. Premier Ford announced earlier this week that the booster shot program would be expedited and that capacity limits would be halved at venues holding 1,000 people or more.

Today's announcement included not only the re-introduction of gathering limits, but a mandatory 50 per cent cap on most indoor public spaces: Restaurants, bars, gyms, salons, retail stores, malls and more.

Bars will be closing at 11 p.m. as of Sunday, with last being moved up to 10 p.m. and only 10 people allowed per table dining in. Guests must remain seated and cannot dance, sing or mingle at the bar.

Food and drink will be prohibited completely at sporting events, concert venues, gaming establishments, theatres and cinemas, which means no beer at concerts and no popcorn at movie theatres.

With new federal travel advisories in effect and this latest dump of restrictions for Ontario, earlier hopes of lifting proof-of-vaccination requirements next month and exiting pandemic mode have been all but completely dashed.

"The decision to limit people's ability to gather, especially during the holidays, is an extremely, extremely difficult one to make. And I know these measures will have an impact on businesses during the important season," said Ford during his press conference on Friday, noting that the government is working on additional supports for industries affected.

"Friends, this variant is unlike anything we've seen, and if we don't take every single precaution we can, the modeling tells a scary story."

"We all have a role to play in keeping ourselves, friends, families, neighbours and communities safe this holiday season," said Dr. Kieran Moore, Chief Medical Officer of Health, similarly.

"Please follow all public measures and get vaccinated with your first, second or booster dose if you have not done so already. Omicron will not take a holiday."

Lead photo by

Jesse Milns

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