toronto lockdown update

Outdoor dining is allowed at bars and restaurants in Toronto again and here are the rules

The lockdown rules for Toronto over the last few months have been undeniably puzzling, with the region having gone from the grey zone to a full provincewide shutdown to a new iteration of grey zone that, as of today, is being amended once again.

As residents might remember from the old staged system of reopening in Ontario, there was a point in late summer and early fall during which bars and restaurants in T.O. were permitted to seat guests on outdoor patios, but not inside.

When the new colour-coded reopening framework was rolled out to replace the stages in November, there was still a provision for patio dining only in the Red-Control zone. That changed with alterations to the framework made after the blanket shutdown and stay-at-home order that was just lifted in Toronto on March 8

Now, with spring weather finally here, citizens of the 6ix are wondering what the deal is going to be with patios — will we go straight to the red zone and indoor dining on March 22? Will we stay in the grey zone for another two weeks with no in-person restaurant service at all? Is there any other option?

The answer is yes, there is, and we're getting it starting this weekend: another new version of the grey zone that permits hospitality establishments to resume patio operations.

The idea was floated just this week with a suggestion from Toronto Mayor John Tory and officials from Peel, who revealed they were asking the province for sanctions to open outdoor dining while still remaining in the grey zone.

The move seemed unlikely, given that Toronto Medical Officer of Health Eileen de Villa is a staunch proponent of keeping the city locked down, and cases in the province — as well as variants of concern — are slowly rising.

But, sympathetic to the plight of struggling businesses that are now in their 17th week of having to shutter for all services but takeout and delivery, Ford said he was on board with the idea and it was brought to Cabinet, and ultimately approved, Friday afternoon.

Under the new grey zone, eateries will be able to open the figurative doors to their patios, so long as capacity limits are followed, all on the premises are able to heed physical distancing directives, and only those from one household sit at a table together, along with other public health and workplace safety measures.

The protocols for bars and restaurants in other coloured zones will change, too, with establishments in Orange-Restrict and Red-Control zones now able to increase capacities based on their size, up to a maximum of 50 in red and 100 in orange.

"Capacity limits for indoor dining will be adjusted and based on a standard, scalable calculation that will allow for approximately 50 per cent of the indoor dining area to be accessible to the public, subject to physical distancing rules," the province states in a press release.

All of these new guidelines will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday March 20, giving businesses less than 24 hours to scramble to prepare. Other regulations for bars and restaurants in each coloured zone, such as the window in which they can serve alcohol, will remain the same.

As we know, non-essential retailers were also recently given the green light to open up slightly in grey, which they were unable to do in that zone previously.

As the province is clearly making things up as they go along  — and to their credit, what other way is there to do things in such unprecedented times and with so many changing factors? — residents should ready themselves for additional changes to the reopening plan, including being plunged back into a more stringent lockdown at any time.

Lead photo by

Fareen Karim

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