Ontario to announce pandemic exit plans on Friday

Ford has broadly hinted that his government will address capacity limits in restaurants, gyms and similar settings

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The Doug Ford government will announce its paced pandemic exit plan Friday.

Ontario remains in Step 3 of a reopening plan which was predicated on 70-80% of adults having at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine — a threshold far exceeded.

The government has previously indicated that once Ontario moves on from Step 3, it will remove any remaining capacity limits in all sectors, social gatherings and organized public events.

Premier Doug Ford has broadly hinted that his government will address capacity or spacing limits in restaurants, gyms and similar settings.

It was not anticipated that masking rules would be eliminated in indoor public settings like retail settings or workplaces even once the reopening plan was concluded.

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Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore has said reopening will be gradual and some pandemic measures are likely to stay in place until at least after the holiday season.

Julie Kwiecinski, director of Provincial Affairs, Ontario, for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), said small businesses do not want a prolonged return to full capacity.

“We’re hoping that the playing field will be levelled immediately between big businesses like large sporting venues and small businesses like gyms, restaurants, bowling alleys, dance studios, bars, yoga studies, just to name a few,” Kwiecinski said. “But unfortunately we’re hearing there is a possibility that the removal of set capacity limits for small businesses could be staged and based on certain data thresholds.”

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The provincial government has still not provided a good reason for allowing the Leafs and Senators to pack fans in at 100% capacity with no physical distancing rules while not doing the same for small businesses, she said.

In addition to allowing more patrons, the government needs to do a better job of encouraging people to shop at small businesses this holiday season, she said.

Currently, 83% of the province’s eligible population is fully vaccinated, and vaccine passports are required to access higher-risk settings such as indoor restaurant dining and movie theatres.

Unlike some other jurisdictions, the province has not seen a sharp spike in daily cases or hospitalizations so far this fall.

Ontario reported 413 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and four more deaths.

Hospitalizations have generally stabilized with 274 patients admitted, including 161 in intensive care and 107 on ventilators.

aartuso@postmedia.com

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