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Ontario announces three-step plan to gradually lift COVID-19 restrictions

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Ontario announced it will allow indoor dining and gyms to reopen and will increase gathering limits on Jan. 31 as part of a three-step plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions in the province.

“We can be confident that the worst is behind us as we look to cautiously ease public health measures,” Premier Doug Ford said Thursday. “We are now in a position to cautiously and gradually ease public health measures.”

Starting Jan. 31, social gathering limits will increase to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors, the province said. 

Indoor dining, gyms, retailers, shopping malls, and cinemas can reopen at 50 per cent capacity. 

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Museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos, casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments can also reopen. 

The government will also allow spectators at sporting events, concert venues and theatres at 50 per cent seated capacity or 500 people, whichever is less.

Each step of reopening will be separated by 21 days in order for the province to monitor public health trends.

“We want to do everything humanly possible to avoid having to go backwards,” Ford said. “If that means pausing between steps for a few extra days, we won’t hesitate to do so.”

On Feb. 21, Ontario will increase indoor social gathering limits to 25 people indoors and 100 people outdoor.

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At this time, the province will also remove capacity limits in indoor public settings where proof of vaccination is required, including restaurants, indoor sports and recreational facilities, and cinemas.

Indoor capacity limits of 25 per cent will be put in place for higher-risk settings where proof of vaccination is required, including nightclubs, wedding receptions in event spaces where there is dancing, as well as bathhouses and sex clubs.

Other settings that choose to opt-in to proof of vaccination requirements will also be allowed to lift capacity limits.

Spectator capacity at sporting events, concert venues, and theatres will be 50 per cent capacity on Feb. 21.

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.

On March 14, Ontario will lift all capacity limits in indoor public settings, but proof of vaccination will still be in effect. 

Social gathering limits will increase to 50 people indoors at the time, with no limits for outdoor gatherings. Remaining capacity limits on religious services, rites, or ceremonies will also be lifted at this time. 

A date for lifting Ontario’s proof of vaccination system and mask mandate was not announced.

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“There are some positive signs that we may be reaching the peak of the Omicron wave in Ontario,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said. “However, we still need to remain humble and cautious.”

Ford said the province is not currently considering updating its proof of vaccination requirement from two doses to three.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said the decision to start reopening the economy was made because there are positive indicators that COVID-19 transmission is starting to ease.

“The percentage of tests that are positive is on the decline at 15 per cent, so that is one indicator we’re following very closely, as well the ability to care for Ontarians in the intensive care unit setting as well as in the hospital,” he said.

Moore did not give a date for when non-urgent surgeries, which was paused earlier this month, will be allowed to resume.

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