The Ford government is making changes to the province’s COVID-19 framework which will allow restaurants in “Grey-Lockdown” to open for outdoor dining and introduce a loosening of restrictions for indoor dining across multiple levels.
The province says restaurants operating in “Red-Control” and “Orange-Restrict” will be able to open with 50 percent capacity and a maximum of 50 and 100 people indoors.
“The total occupancy cannot exceed 50 patrons in Red-Control and 100 patrons in Orange-Restrict,” said the government in a news release.
Outdoor patio dining at restaurants and bars in Grey Zone will only be permitted with members of the same household.
Similarly for Red and Orange Zone restaurants, the province announced the plan to “limit tables for indoor dining to members of the same household with exemptions for patrons who live alone and caregivers.”
A sign must also be posted by the establishment in a visible location that states maximum capacity, the province says.
These changes go into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday.
The province also announced the following public health units will move to different levels as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 framework:
- Brant County Health Unit (From Orange – Feb. 16)
- Chatham-Kent Public Health (From Orange – Mar. 1)
- Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark District Health Unit (From Yellow – Mar. 15)
- Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (From Green – Feb. 10)
- Kingston, Frontenac, and Lennox & Addington Public Health (From Green – Feb. 10)
- North Bay Parry Sound District (From Red – Mar. 8)
- Porcupine Health Unit (From Orange – Feb. 16)
- Timiskaming Health Unit (From Orange – March 8)
This becomes effective Monday, March 22, at 12:01 a.m.
“With the significant and increasing risk of COVID-19 variants, the next few weeks will be critical in our fight against COVID-19,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health.
“Thanks to the tireless efforts of our frontline health care workers we continue to accelerate our vaccine rollout, but until all Ontarians can receive the vaccine we must not let our guard down and continue following public health advice. This remains our best defense.”
Toronto and Peel Region, two GTA hotspots, are currently in the strictest ‘Grey-Lockdown’ category of the province’s colour-coded pandemic framework.
The top doctors in both public health units said they were actively discussing with the province about keeping the public health units in lockdown but with modified restrictions that would permit outdoor dining and events as the weather improves in the coming weeks.
Dr. Eileen De Villa and Dr. Lawrence Loh said Wednesday they wanted to keep their communities in the strictest category, but with the aforementioned alterations designed to let people gather outdoors.
De Villa said during Toronto’s latest COVID-19 briefing that the city would not be moved out of lockdown, once again reiterating that variants of concern are leading to further spread and transmission.
“We have been in conversation with the province, specifically with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, about where next to take Toronto within the provincial COVID-19 framework,” she said.
The current Grey Zone restrictions allow retailers to open with capacity limits but keep indoor restaurant dining, gyms, and personal care services closed.
Of the government introducing an increased capacity for indoor dining in establishments under the Red Zone, Yoni Freedhoff – Associated Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Ottawa – said now is not the right time.
“Evidence on variants and transmission definitely does not yet suggest that this is a wise/safe plan,” Freedhoff tweeted.
The government’s decision comes as the presence of variants of concern (VOC) remains unsettled across the province.
Ontario’s Science Advisory Table confirmed 877 new VOC cases on Friday with an effective reproduction umber (Rt) now at 1.34.
Rt corresponds to the average number of additional infections caused by one case of the virus. An Rt of higher than 1 indicates exponential growth.
“While some regions are proceeding to levels with less restrictive measures and adjustments are being made to dining capacity, everyone must continue to adhere to all public health and workplace safety measures,” said Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health on Friday.
“We have entered the third wave of the pandemic and the rates of variants of concern continue to rise so it is important that people remain cautious and vigilant in order to minimize the transmission of COVID-19 and protect themselves and their communities.”
Prior to Friday’s announcement, Premier Doug Ford said he always leans in favour of letting people do more activities outside but will listen to data and scientific research.
“Some people may think it’s OK to open it wide open and every man, woman, and child for themselves – I don’t believe that,” said Ford.
“I believe we have to be super cautious.”
Mayor John Tory reiterated his desire to see a slight loosening of lockdown measures when he spoke to Breakfast Television on Thursday morning.
Tory said he thought the changes could come into effect as early as the weekend.
“I fully understand the concept that business and others need some notice with regards to these kind of changes,” says Tory. “But when you’re opening things up, my guess is you could probably leave it to the ingenuity of the private sector to a sort out the time. I think it could be sooner than next week.”
Typically the Ford government has been announcing restriction changes on Friday that would go into effect the following Monday.
In today’s case, the modifications will now go into force Saturday for restaurants across Grey, Red, and Orange levels.
As the province attempts to ramp up its vaccination efforts, Ontario’s Science Advisory Table said earlier this week that the province has already entered the third wave of COVID-19.
Dr. Williams echoed these sentiments on Thursday.
“We are in the third wave it is just a matter of what kind of wave is it,” he said.
New pandemic modelling data from the University of Waterloo and the University of Guelph, predicted daily COVID-19 cases in the Greater Toronto Area could triple by mid-April as a result of more infectious variants of concern becoming the dominant strain of the virus.
The modelling is predicting around 3,800 new cases a day for the GTA by early April. It also predicts approximately 6,800 new cases a day for the province by April 1.
There are now 1,136 cumulative cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, 47 cases of the B 1.351 variant, and 35 cases of the P.1 variant first detected in Brazil.
Ontario reported 1,553 new COVID-19 cases and 15 additional deaths on Thursday. Nearly half of the province’s cases came from Toronto (404) and Peel (294).
Ontarians over the age of 75 can start scheduling COVID-19 vaccine appointments through the province’s booking portal on Monday.
Adults 75 and older were set to become eligible by the first week of April but Premier Ford says immunizations are ahead of schedule.
The province says more than 50 percent of Ontario residents aged 80 and older have now received at least one dose.