Ontario Premier Doug Ford has announced plans to gradually lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions over the coming months, including masking requirements by March 2022.
Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Ford and other officials said the first step in the exit plan is to remove capacity limits in settings where proof of vaccination is required, including gyms, bars, restaurants, casinos, and other indoor gathering spaces. The order will take effect on Monday Oct. 25 at 12:01 a.m.
“I said to you last week that our government was in the final stages of developing a plan to safely reopen Ontario. I said this plan would stand the test of time. This plan is designed to bring certainty and predictability to what our response to the pandemic will look like in the coming months,” Ford said.
Ontario lifted capacity limits for large venues such as concert halls, theatres, and sports arenas on Oct. 8.
Minister of Health Christine Elliott said the government will continue to monitor the impacts of the removal of capacity limits on public health, and if there are no concerning trends more restrictions will be removed.
“We will continue to cautiously and gradually lift other public health measures in November 2021, and January, February, and March 2022,” Elliott said.
“On Jan. 17, 2022, there would begin a gradual lifting of vaccine certification requirements, chief medical officer of health directives, and capacity limits in settings were proof of vaccination is not required. Other public health and workplace safety measures, including masking, would remain until March 28, 2022, at which time they will be lifted.”
Chief Medical Officer of Health Kieran Moore said ICU capacity is one of the main indicators for deciding whether it will be necessary roll back the lifting of public health restrictions.
When asked why the exit date is set for March 2022, Moore said that by that time the government expects to have maximized the vaccination rate to the point that the COVID-19 virus will no longer be able to find a host in which it can further reproduce.
“Our third-dose strategies will be completed, our immunization strategy for children from five to 11 will have been completed, and we’ll have a very good point to be able to look at the data to review the safe opening for all of Ontario, and then we will have to learn to live with this virus,” he said.