Ontario releases new restriction details ahead of next week's reopening
Contact tracing at restaurants, work-from-home orders and the infamous movie theatre popcorn ban will all become a thing of the past when Ontario begins reopening again on Jan. 31 after its latest round of lockdown restrictions.
That's not to say that some restaurants won't still demand your contact information, or that your boss won't tell you to keep working remotely — only that the government will no longer be legally requiring them to do so.
These are among the subtle tweaks to Ontario's newest reopening plan, as revealed by the province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, during a press conference on Thursday.
"I want to thank all Ontarians for the incredible sacrifices you've made over the last several weeks. They are having an impact," said Moore when providing his COVID-19 update.
"Our health care indicators suggest a general improvement in the COVID-19 situation in the province with the number of hospitalization and cases in the intensive care unit continuing to increase, but at a slower pace than we've seen in the previous weeks."
"Because of your extraordinary efforts to help blunt the transmission of Omicron and protect our health system capacity, we can gradually begin easing public health measures on Monday, Jan. 31st, while still keeping up with the measures that are helping reduce transmission."
As we learned late last week, the Ford government will be changing many of the provincewide public health measures that went into place nearly a month ago to stop the spread of Omicron.
Ontario reverted back to back to Step 2 of the government's Roadmap to Reopen at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 5, at which point schools, bars, gyms, restaurants, cinemas, museums and concert venues were ordered to shut down completely.
Retail stores, hair salons, libraries and other business types were given a capacity limit of 50 per cent and social gathering limits were lowered back down to just ten people outdoors, five inside.
The goal was to start a "new, phased plan" for lifting restrictions beginning on Monday, Jan. 31 at 12:01 a.m., so long as the Omicron variant stayed in check and no new concerning public health trends emerged.
All systems are a go as we approach the weekend, according to Moore, meaning that on Monday Ontario will increase social gathering limits to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors, and allow 50 per cent capacity (with proof of vaccination) for most indoor public settings, including restaurants, casinos and cinemas.
Capacities will also increase to 50 per cent for religious services or ceremonies, and 50 per cent (or 500 people, whichever is less) for sporting events, concert venues and theatres.
"While this is positive news, we must remain vigilant in the face of this virus and our continued reopening efforts must be implemented cautiously," warned Moore on Thursday. "We are fortunate that our vaccination rollout continues to be strong... 91.7 percent of Ontarians age 12 and over have received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 89.1 percent are fully immunized."
Here's what else Moore confirmed or revealed on Thursday afternoon when announcing that reopening would move forward:
Non-urgent operations were put on hold in early January to preserve hospital capacity, pushing pause on some 8,000 to 10,000 surgical procedures a week since Jan. 5.
"In recognition of the impact it has had on Ontarians awaiting care, and with careful monitoring of hospital capacity, we intend to take a phased approach to resuming some health services that were paused when the directive was put in place," said Moore.
Previously-paused surgical activities will be resuming "as early as next week," says Moore, though not all at once, and not within every area of medicine — only areas that are less likely to "adversely impact inpatient capacity readiness or human health resources in hospitals."
Moore says that further details regarding which surgical and procedural activities will be permitted should be provided in the coming days.
While masks will still be required for all indoor settings, the province will no longer require most businesses to collect the information of customers for contact tracing purposes.
"This is aligned with recent changes to the testing and case and contact management guidance and will allow businesses to focus their efforts on the enforcement of other public health measures in these settings, such as masking requirements," reads a release from the government issued Thursday.
Moore himself said during his presser that it's up to individuals to identify their own risk levels and act accordingly.
"The amount of virus in the community is not such that individual case and contact management will have any benefit, I think, on an individual level," said the province's top doc.
"You have to identify your risks. You have to monitor your symptoms on a daily basis. If you've got symptoms of COVID-19, we've got instructions on Ontario.ca for how to monitor and care for yourself, and when to seek healthcare."
Moore also revealed that Ontarians will soon have better access to rapid antigen tests thanks to an increase in supply from the Canadian government.
"I'm happy to say we will have greater access in the coming weeks given that the federal government is starting to ship more and more RATs to us, so you can have testing done in the comfort of your apartment or home and not have to go elsewhere for it," said Moore.
"I hope that Ontarians understand that we're trying to prioritize our case and contact management capacity for the highest risk and most vulnerable populations."
Initially, under the phased plan released last week, the resumption of food and drink services at indoor sporting events, concert venues, theatre, cinemas and similar venues wasn't permitted until Feb. 21.
No longer is this the case; guests at movie theatres will be able to order and eat popcorn as of Jan. 31, as long as they keep their masks on whenever they're not actually eating. Same goes for spectators at sporting events who wish to indulge in some peanuts or beer.
The province is formally lifting legal requirements on Monday, Jan. 31, for people to work from home except when necessary. Those who can work from home should continue to do so, says Moore, to help stop viral spread — but it's no longer against the rules or law.
Moore clarified on Thursday that, while some government restrictions are being lifted, it's still up to every individual business owner to implement their own additional rules, if they so choose.
It'll likely remain that way for some time well into the future as industries learn to operate under a new type of normal with COVID in the mix.
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