Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced plans to phase out COVID-19 restrictions in the province starting January 31, citing lower positivity rates and a stabilizing health workforce.
While the pandemic will continue to create problems for the healthcare system, those problems are now manageable for hospitals, the Prime Minister said at a January 20 press conference, accompanied by Health Secretary Christine Elliott and Ontario Chief Health Officer Dr Kieran Moore.
“We can be confident in our ability to take care of people, provide hospital beds to those who need them, and we can be confident that the worst is behind us as we look to carefully relax public health measures,” Ford said.
The province said Ontario will have a phased approach to reopening with 21 days between each phase.
In the first phase, restaurants, bars, gyms and other businesses in Ontario will return to 50 percent capacity starting at 00:01 on January 31st. Restrictions on public gatherings will also increase to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors. The viewing areas of large venues such as sporting events and concerts can be reopened with a capacity of 50 percent or 500 people.
If infection trends remain stable or improve, Ontario will move to the next step on February 21st. At this stage, the number of public gatherings will increase to 25 people indoors and 100 people outdoors, and capacity restrictions will be lifted for public spaces where proof of vaccination is still required.
The final phase should go into effect on March 14 as the province lifts all capacity limits for closed public spaces, although vaccine passports will remain in place for existing spaces. Public gatherings during this phase will be limited to 50 people indoors and no outdoor restrictions.
Health Secretary Christine Elliott said the province is seeing some positive signs that it is approaching the “peak of the Omicron wave.”
“As we begin to see some encouraging signs and begin to ease the measures, I want to remind the people of Ontario how grateful we are for their sacrifices to protect each other,” Elliott said.
“To our healthcare workers, pharmacists and other essential workers…it cannot be overstated how much we owe you.”
In October 2021, the government announced its plan to lift all COVID-19-related restrictions by March 2022, including mask-wearing and vaccination confirmation requirements.
Asked at a press conference why the latest phased reopening plan retains masking and vaccine passport requirements, Ford said the new Omicron variant was a “game changer” but added that Ontario is now seeing a “positive trend” where infection rates decreased. and hospitalization rates have declined.
“We are not out of the woods yet, but we are cautious about moving forward. And I’m confident that we will move forward carefully and get back to normal as quickly as possible,” Ford said.
On January 20, Ontario saw a continued decline in the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 to 4,061 from 4,132 the day before.