Ontario is moving to Step 3 of its reopening plan next Friday, July 16, five days earlier than planned, allowing for larger indoor and outdoor gatherings, the province said today.
The move allows for outdoor social gatherings of up to 100 people and up to 25 people inside.
Indoor sports and recreational fitness facilities, including gyms, would be able to open again at 50 per cent capacity or a maximum of 1,000 people, whichever is less.
Indoor dining, retail and personal care would have no capacity limits as long as patrons can properly physically distance.
Religious services and events such as weddings and funerals can also operate indoors, as long as people are following other public health measures.
Places such as cinemas, museums, aquariums, casinos and bingo halls can run at 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent outdoors.
Safe to move to next reopening step
The move also allows for concerts, theatres and sports facilities to operate at 50 per cent capacity inside, with a max of 1,000 people. If outside, they can run at 75 per cent capacity with a max of 5,000 people for unseated events and 15,000 people for events with fixed seating.
The provincial mandate for masks indoors will remain in place until at least September.
Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, detailed the coming changes at a news conference Friday afternoon.
Moore, who said as recently as June 30 that he wanted Ontario to stay in Step 2 for at least three full weeks, said today that with falling case counts and high vaccination rates, he believes it is safe to move forward earlier than planned.
“Our immunization strategy is working really, really well,” he said. “I didn’t see any reason to hold us back”
Ontario was originally slated to move to Step 3 on July 21, but the province has passed its COVID-19 vaccination target for entering Step 3, with nearly 79 per cent of adults vaccinated with one dose and more than 50 per cent fully vaccinated as of Wednesday.
Concern about variants
Despite the progress, Moore said he remains concerned about the presence of the delta and lambda variants of concern.
“Certainly the pandemic is not yet over,” he said.
Delta is currently the dominant strain in the province. Six cases of the lambda variant have been confirmed so far.
Moore said that reaching a remaining 10 to 15 per cent of adults who have not had a vaccine but could be open to one remains a priority for health officials, especially given the risks posed by the variants.
According to a government news release, the province will stay in Step 3 for at least three weeks, and “until 80 per cent of the eligible population aged 12 and over has received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 75 per cent have received their second, with no public health unit having less than 70 per cent of their population fully vaccinated.”
“Upon meeting these thresholds, the vast majority of public health and workplace safety measures, including capacity limits for indoor and outdoor settings and limits for social gatherings, will be lifted,” the release said.
Moore said he believes the thresholds are realistic.
“The goals we have set are, I think, attainable”
183 new COVID-19 cases
Meanwhile, Ontario reported another 183 cases of COVID-19 on Friday, the fewest on a single day since Sept. 6, 2020 when the province was in the earliest weeks of its second wave of the pandemic.
Here are some other key pandemic indicators and figures from the Ministry of Health’s daily provincial update:
Seven-day average of daily cases: 192
Tests completed: 26,101
Provincewide test positivity rate: 0.7 per cent, the lowest on a Friday since Sept. 4
Active cases: 1,757
Patients in ICU with COVID-related illnesses: 202; 143 needed a ventilator to breathe
Deaths: Nine, pushing the official death toll to 9,237
Vaccinations: 224,864, roughly 89 per cent of which were second doses. Nearly 79 per cent of Ontario adults have now had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.