As COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise in Ontario, the province will be returning to a modified version of Step Two of its Roadmap to Reopen plan.
Premier Doug Ford made the announcement during a Monday morning press conference, joined by Minister of Health Christine Elliott, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore, and CEO of Ontario Health Matt Anderson.
“Omicron case counts are rising exponentially across the province,” said Premier Ford.
“Now we’re bracing for impact,” he continued. “The evidence tells us that about 1% of people who get Omicron will end up in the hospital. That may not seem a lot and under past waves it might seem like something we could stand, but unlike other variants, Omicron is much more transmissible. That math isn’t on our side.”
The new restrictions will go into effect on January 5 at 12:01 am, and will be in place for at least 21 days, subject to trends in public health and health system indicators.
Restrictions include reducing numbers at social gatherings, requiring employees to work remotely when possible, closing indoor dining at restaurants, bars, and other food and beverage establishments, closing select indoor settings such as theatres, cinemas, and museums, closing indoor sport and recreational facilities, and limiting retail settings, personal care services, and indoor weddings, funerals, and religious services to 50% capacity.
Additionally, all public and private schools will move to remote learning starting January 5 until at least January 17.
“Children will continue to receive live virtual learning during this period, led by their teacher, with full access to school-based academic and mental health supports,” said Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education.
“We will continue to work closely with the Chief Medical Officer of Health to keep our communities safe and ensure that Ontario students get back to in-person learning as soon as possible,” Minister Lecce added.
School buildings are allowed to remain open for child care operations, to provide in-person instruction for students with special education needs who cannot be accommodated remotely, and for staff who are unable to deliver quality instruction from home.
While remote learning is in place, free emergency child care will be provided for school-aged children of health care and other eligible frontline workers.
“Our plan demands that we implement additional health measures,” said Premier Ford. “It will mean the closure of more indoor spaces where we know this risk of Omicron transmission is higher. The immediate goal of these measures will be to blunt the wave.”
Social gatherings will be limited to five people indoors and 10 people outdoors. Indoor weddings, funerals, and religious services, rites, and ceremonies will be reduced to 50% capacity, while outdoor services are limited to the number of people that can maintain 2 metres of physical distance. Social gatherings associated with these services must adhere to the new social gathering limits.
Indoor concert venues, theatres, cinemas, museums, galleries, zoos, science centres, landmarks, historic sites, botanical gardens, amusement parks and waterparks, rural exhibitions, festivals, indoor horse racing tracks, and car racing tracks must close. Outdoor establishments are permitted to remain open with restrictions in place, and with spectator occupancy limited to 50% capacity.
Public libraries, personal care services, and retail settings, including shopping malls, may remain open at 50% capacity. Saunas, steam rooms, and oxygen bars are to be closed.
Indoor dining must close at restaurants, bars, and other food and beverage establishments. Outdoor dining with restrictions, takeout, drive-through, and delivery will be permitted. Food and beverage establishments must end alcohol sale by 10 pm, and alcohol consumption is to be finished by 11 pm, with delivery, takeout, grocery and convenience stores, and other liquor stores exempted.
Indoor sport and recreational fitness facilities, including gyms, are to be closed. Outdoor facilities can operate, but the number of spectators can’t exceed 50% occupancy while following all other public health measures.
Businesses and organizations must have their employees work remotely, unless their work requires them to be onsite.
Ontario reported 13,578 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. This follows 16,714 infections found on Sunday, and a record-breaking 18,445 cases of COVID-19 on Saturday.
According to data tweeted by Minister Elliot, there are currently 1,232 people hospitalized with the virus, including 248 in intensive care.
“Health experts tell us we could see hundreds of thousands of cases every single day,” said Premier Ford. “Ontario health modelling tells us we could be thousands of beds short [in hospitals] in the coming weeks.”