Boosted by soaring vaccination rates, Ontario will move into the next step of reopening the economy next Friday — and is on pace to a return to a post-pandemic “normal” in August.
“It is an exciting day for Ontario,” Dr. Kieran Moore, the chief medical officer of health, told reporters.
Moore, who last week allowed an expedited move to the current step two, has given Premier Doug Ford the green light to enter the next reopening stage five days earlier than the planned date of July 21.
“I didn’t see any reason to hold us back. Vaccines are our ticket out of this pandemic,” the visibly relieved chief medical officer said Friday.
Among other things, step three means indoor dining at restaurants will be permitted for the first time in months and gyms can open for workouts inside.
The top doctor said he was encouraged by Ontario’s low daily COVID-19 case counts and high rate of vaccinations after a pandemic that began in March 2020 and has killed 9,228 people here.
“Thanks to the continued efforts of Ontarians adhering to public health measures and advice, as well as going out to get vaccinated, we have seen most key health indicators continue to improve,” he said.
“However, the pandemic is not over and we must all remain vigilant and continue following the measures and advice in place, as the Delta variant continues to pose a threat to public health.”
There were 183 cases reported Friday. There were 78.9 per cent of adults with one shot and 52.7 per cent fully vaccinated; the threshold for entering step three was 70-80 per cent of adults with one shot and 25 per cent with both.
Ford hailed “the ongoing commitment of Ontarians to get vaccinated” for the progress.
“We have surpassed the targets we set. This is not over by any means — let’s not be out there doing the victory lap,” the premier said Friday.
“While this is welcome news for everyone who wants a return to normal, we will not slow down our efforts to fully vaccinate everyone who wants to be and put this pandemic behind us once and for all,” he said.
As of 12:01 a.m. July 16, Ontarians can enjoy:
- Indoor dining with no capacity limit as long as safe physical distance of two metres can be maintained.
- Indoor fitness activities at 50 per cent capacity.
- Indoor spectator sports, concerts, theatres, and cinemas at 50 per cent of the normal seated capacity or 1,000 people, whichever is less.
- Outdoor spectator sports and concerts at 75 per cent of the usual seating capacity or 15,000 people, whichever is less.
- Outdoor standing room events up to 75 per cent capacity or a maximum limit of 5,000 people, whichever is less.
- Outdoor events with up to 100 people.
- Indoor gatherings with up to 25 people, including wedding and funerals.
- Nightclubs at up to 25 per cent capacity or up to a maximum of 250 people, whichever is less.
As well, galleries, museums, zoos, casinos, bingo halls, fairs, amusement parks, and other attractions can reopen at 50 per cent of indoor capacity and 75 per cent of outdoor capacity.
After step three, Moore predicted pre-pandemic life might return by Aug. 6.
But it would require 80 per cent of everyone 12 and up to have one shot and 75 per cent to have both shots and each of Ontario’s 34 public health units must have at least 70 per cent fully vaccinated.
As of Friday, 78.1 per cent of those 12 and up had had one shot and 50.4 per cent were fully vaccinated.
“It will be a challenge to all of us — especially those that haven’t been vaccinated — to come forward in this short time frame,” admitted Moore.
That said, he suggested a full reopening could come even sooner.
“If it comes earlier, it will only be thanks to all Ontarians who have been able to limit the spread of the virus (and) the impact on the hospitals and achieve the immunization targets that we set out.”
Indeed, reaching those thresholds will require a huge push of vaccines for those aged 12 to 17 in time for schools to reopen in September.
Dan Kelly, president of the 95,000-member Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said it was about time Ontario allowed things to reopen.
“Finally! The world’s longest lockdown here in Ontario is set to end. This is a meaningful step forward and the first sign of light at the end of the tunnel for tens of thousands of small business owners,” Kelly said in a statement.
“While this is good news, for those businesses that face capacity restraints and other restrictions this will not put them on a pathway to breaking even after accumulating an average of over $ 200,000 in COVID-related debt,” he said.
“They will have to wait until early August for a full reopening … we urge the Ontario government to introduce a third round of the Ontario Small Business Support Grant with expanded eligibility to capture the sectors that were crushed by the province-wide stay-at-home order but left out of provincial support programs, such as dry cleaners, and restaurant suppliers.”
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