Ontario presents long-term plan to lift all COVID-19 restrictions by end of March – .

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Ontario presents long-term plan to lift all COVID-19 restrictions by end of March – .


Patrons at Allen’s Pub in Toronto are served by a masked waiter on November 22, 2020.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has unveiled an endgame for his government’s pandemic restrictions which suggests the province’s new vaccine certificate scheme could begin to lift by mid-January, with the compulsory wearing of the mask indoors and all other measures removed by the end of March.

The first plank of the long-term pandemic plan that Mr Ford released on Friday goes into effect on Monday and will see all COVID-19 physical distancing rules lifted for restaurants, bars and gyms. The province’s decision earlier this month to leave those rules in place while allowing theaters and major sporting venues – including the home of the Toronto Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs – to operate at full capacity has been criticized by many players in the hard-hit restaurant industry.

The remainder of the plan, which the Prime Minister unveiled alongside Chief Medical Officer of Health Kieran Moore and Health Minister Christine Elliott, sets out a tentative timetable to lift all remaining public health measures – including mask warrants and the recently implemented vaccine certificate rules in Ontario – by the end of March 2022.

But the province says its “cautious” and “step-by-step” plan will still be subject to key metrics, including the ability of hospital intensive care units to deal with COVID-19 patients – and that targeted local measures could be necessary to counter the peaks of different Regions.

“Let me reinforce the word cautious. We have always been careful. I’m going to be super careful, ”Ford told reporters at Queen’s Park. “If we don’t see the numbers in a stable place, we just aren’t going to. “

While Ford said on Friday that the province had “never underestimated this virus,” his government was stung by backlash earlier this year when it began to reopen in defiance of scientific advice and that hospitals in the province were overwhelmed. Now Ontario has the lowest infection rate in Canada while other provinces, including Alberta and Saskatchewan, have faced devastating fourth waves.

As part of the new plan, starting October 25 at 12:01 am, Ontario will lift physical distancing requirements for businesses where its vaccine certificate rules are in place, including restaurants, bars, gyms , casinos and bingo halls. The government will also allow other businesses and institutions still with physical distancing requirements to lift them if they opt for the vaccine certificate scheme, including salons, hair salons, museums and art galleries. , as well as places that organize weddings, funerals or religions. services.

On November 15, Ontario plans to remove capacity limits in high-risk settings such as dance clubs or strip clubs. By Jan. 17, the government said if trends remain positive, it could start gradually lifting its proof of vaccination requirements at restaurants and bars, gyms and arenas. From February 7, vaccine certificate requirements could also be lifted for nightclubs and some other higher risk spaces. As part of the plan, all other remaining measures, including compulsory mask wear, could be lifted by March 28.

Andrew Morris, an infectious disease specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital and University Health Network in Toronto and a member of the province’s COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Table, said the relaxation of the rules as winter sets in and that more interactions moving inside could see cases increase. Other countries, even those with high vaccination rates, have seen the virus return, he said.

“They don’t have much leeway… My fear is that the numbers will start to rise and we won’t have a clear idea of ​​how to stop it,” Dr Morris said.

He also said the government was making a “strategic error” in signaling that it would start cutting its vaccine certificate scheme in just three months, if part of the plan’s original goal was to encourage people to opt out. get vaccinated. From now on, determined vaccine resistant will only have to wait until January.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said in a statement it was relieved at the lifting of restaurant restrictions and said it hoped that “it would end government policies that favor big business, like big business. surfaces or large sports venues, compared to small businesses in Ontario. . ”

Rocco Rossi, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, urged the government to ensure that any decision to lay down masks or vaccine rules is “evidence-based” and “not not put our reopening and our recovery in danger ”.

In a statement, the Association of Registered Nurses of Ontario (RNAO) said it was disappointed with the announcement, calling it the betting plan. RNAO CEO Doris Grinspun said the government should not relax its rules as winter approaches.

Earlier Friday, Ontario’s Independent COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Table released new modeling suggesting the number of new daily infections is expected to remain relatively stable for next month, provided Ontario maintains public health rules such as mandatory masking, vaccine certificates, improved ventilation and symptom screening.

In the worst-case scenario, where the number of contacts per person increases, the province could see more than 600 new cases per day by the end of November. At best, that number drops below 200. Ontario reported 492 new cases on Friday, 325 of which were unvaccinated or partially vaccinated or whose vaccination status is unknown.

But the Science Table also warned that things could turn sour if Ontario lifted too many restrictions too quickly, pointing the finger at Denmark and Finland, which have relaxed masking and other rules and are now seeing a resurgence of cases. , despite high vaccination rates.

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