Premier Doug Ford will lift COVID-19 capacity limits in restaurants, bars and gyms when he unveils additional benchmarks for reopening Ontario’s economy.
Ford, who is expected to meet with reporters on Friday, hopes to give encouraging news to restaurateurs and others – such as publicans and fitness center owners – who are concerned about restrictions on their businesses.
The Prime Minister’s press conference will take place days before his Progressive Conservative government unveils detailed steps for the reopening next week.
It has been about three months since Ontario entered the current “third stage” of reopening.
“We call it ‘pandemic plan 2.0” – but it’s not just about reopening, “a senior government official told The Star on Wednesday, confirming a CBC report that broke the news.
The plan will include key health markers such as the capacity of intensive care units in hospitals, the daily number of COVID-19 cases and vaccination rates to allow the government to reinstate pandemic bans if necessary.
“Our approach will continue to be cautious, cautious, cautious. What we want is not to overload the health care system. The current indicators are that we won’t have to go back, but we have to be careful, ”said the senior conservative, who spoke in confidence to discuss internal deliberations.
“We’re going to give everyone clarification at the same time,” the source said, ironically noting the warmth the government is taking from sectors excluded from last Friday’s surprise announcement that lifted capacity limits in major corporations. stadiums, concert halls and theaters.
Restaurants, bars and gyms – where proof of vaccination is also required – have been excluded.
“What’s not great are the one-offs,” the insider said, conceding that it was “a bad idea” to only go to big venues.
Indeed, pressure has increased on Ford from opposition leaders and business groups to lift customer limits at bars, restaurants and gyms struggling financially in the pandemic.
“It’s a real headache,” said Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca.
“I don’t think it makes sense to allow full capacity to come back into… Scotiabank Arena, but not to let an individual restaurant owner do what they need to do to survive. “
Ontario reported 306 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, dropping the seven-day average of new infections to 500 – the lowest in six weeks, despite schools reopening to classroom learning last month.
The vaccination rate now sits at 83% of Ontarians over the age of 12 with two injections and 87% with one, suggesting the goal of at least 90% is within reach.
“We know that we are close to the maximum vaccination rate (for 12 years and over) because there are 10% of people who will never get vaccinated,” said the senior official.
“But we are also monitoring when the (vaccine for children aged 5 to 11) will be available and more boosters. “
The Tories quietly announced the changes to the stadiums and theaters in a press release late Friday afternoon, just before Thanksgiving weekend.
But the problem has heated up this week like leftover turkey in the microwave.
“It’s almost like they’re trying to get this policy through,” said Meg Marshall of the Queen West Business Improvement Area. She maintained that more fans should be able to cheer on the Leafs at “our local restaurants.”
Critics wondered how it was safer for patrons to be crammed shoulder to shoulder in an arena, eating and drinking without a mask, than leaving a slate full of tables open in a restaurant or bar, where customers must wear masks if they leave their seats.
Customer capacity is 50 percent at most dining establishments and gymnasiums.
“Once again, Doug Ford is putting family-owned businesses in the neighborhood at a disadvantage,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, calling for a “level playing field”.
She compared the situation to previous pandemic closures, in which the government allowed big box stores like Walmart and Costco to remain fully open while small non-essential retailers were limited to online or phone orders and online pickup. street edge.
Consternation continued after Tourism, Culture and Culture Minister Lisa MacLeod failed to attend an online meeting her office called with industry executives on Tuesday, leaving several staff collect their comments.
“It was rather unnecessary,” said Restaurants Canada vice-president James Rilett, welcoming the pressure added Wednesday by opposition parties. “The ministry had no answer for us as to why this was done and what it was going to do in the future. “
MacLeod’s office said she was in Ottawa, where she represents the suburban riding of Nepean, at a meeting about the hospital’s expansion there.
Ontario Chamber of Commerce president Rocco Rossi said the “inconsistency” between capacity limit policies needs to be explained.
“The hard-hit and hard-working restaurant industry deserves much, much better,” he said.
Del Duca agreed that it appears that restaurants, for example, are not getting a “fair shake” from the province.
“It’s okay for governments to make tough decisions, but I think you need to support those decisions … and provide the evidence, and provide the data, and make sure people can trust your decisions,” he said. -he declares.
The Department of Health said capacity limits for stadiums, concert halls and theaters were lifted on the recommendation of Chief Medical Officer Dr Kieran Moore due to “limited transmission” of COVID-19 in these contexts.
Moore will face questions about the decision at his weekly press conference Thursday afternoon.
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