Island restaurateurs pleased with Ontario’s re-opening plan


MANITOULIN – Restaurateurs say they are extremely pleased that Ontario’s recent plan to reduce COVID-19 public health restrictions over the coming months also includes a lifting of capacity restrictions in bars and restaurants.

The Ontario government, in consultation with the chief medical officer of health, has released ‘A Plan to Safely Reopen Ontario and Manage COVID-19 for the Long-Term,’ which outlines the province’s gradual approach to lifting remaining public health and workplace safety measures by March 2022. The plan includes continual assessment of key public health and health care indicators and will feature locally specific responses if certain communities face rising case counts.

The announcement means capacity limits for restaurants and bars for instance have been lifted, effective October 25, as long as patrons show proof of vaccination. It’s been a popular decision among Island business-owners who have had to operate below capacity since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.“Happy, happy, happy, I’m so happy this is now in place. It has been a long-time coming,” stated Denise Callaghan, co-owner of the Anchor Inn in Little Current, on Monday.

Judith Martin, owner of The Codmother’s Restaurant in Gore Bay told The Expositor, “That’s a darn good thing. That’s perfect. How can I not be pleased? It’s sad when we have had to turn community members away until now.”

“It’s great, especially when we are going into the slow time of the year for business,” said Ms. Martin. “Now we will be able to bring people in and possibly be able to provide some entertainment.” 

“Thanks to our cautious and careful approach to reopening, we are now in position to gradually lift all remaining public health measures over the coming months,” said Premier Doug Ford last Friday. “This plan is built for the long term. It will guide us safely through the winter and out of this pandemic, while avoiding lockdowns and ensuring we don’t lose the hard-fought gains we have made.” 

Ontario will slowly and incrementally lift all remaining public health and workplace safety measures, including the provincial requirement for proof of vaccination and wearing of face coverings in indoor public settings, over the next six months. This phased approach will be guided by the ongoing assessment and monitoring of key public health and health care indicators, such as the identification of any new COVID-19 variants, increases in hospitalizations and intensive care unit (ICU) occupancy and rapid increases in transmission to ensure that public health and workplace safety measures are lifted safely.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, Ontario has taken a cautious approach to reopening to protect the health and safety of Ontarians,” said Christine Elliott, deputy premier and minister of health. “Our plan will ensure we replicate this success and take a gradual approach that will protect our health system capacity, prevent widespread closures, keep our schools open and support the province’s economic recovery.”

In the absence of concerning trends, public health and workplace safety measures will be lifted based on  proposed milestones. 

In response to continued improvements to key indicators, including ongoing stability in the province’s hospitals, effective October 25, 2021 at 12:01 am, Ontario lifted capacity limits in the vast majority of settings where proof of vaccinations are required, such as restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments; indoor areas of sport and recreational facilities such as gyms and where personal physical fitness trainers provide instruction; casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments and  indoor meeting and event spaces. Limits were also lifted in certain outdoor settings.

At this time, the government will also allow other settings to lift capacity limits and physical distancing requirements if they choose to require proof of vaccination, including personal care services (e.g., barber shops, salons, body art), indoor areas of museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos, science centres, landmarks, historic sites, botanical gardens and similar attractions, indoor areas of amusement parks, indoor areas of fairs, rural exhibitions, festivals, indoor tour and guide services, boat tours, indoor areas of marinas and boating clubs, indoor clubhouses at outdoor recreational amenities, open house events provided by real estate agencies and indoor areas of photography studios and services; locations where  a wedding, funeral or religious service, rite or ceremony takes place may also implement proof of vaccination requirements for services, rites, or ceremonies at the location.

This will not apply to settings where people receive medical care, food from grocery stores and medical supplies. In addition, the government intends to allow for greater capacity at organized public events such as Remembrance Day ceremonies and Santa Claus parades with more details coming in the near future.

On November 15 the government intends to lift capacity limits in the remaining higher-risk settings where proof of vaccination is required, including food or drink establishments with dance facilities (e.g., night clubs, wedding receptions in meeting/event spaces where there is dancing); strip clubs, bathhouses and sex clubs.

On January 17 in the absence of concerning trends in public health and health care following the winter holiday months and after students returned to in-class learning, the province intends to begin gradually lifting capacity limits in settings where proof of vaccination is not required. The chief medical officer of health will also lift CMOH directives as appropriate.

Proof of vaccination requirements may also begin to be gradually lifted at this time, including for restaurants, bars and other food and drink establishments, facilities used for sports and recreational facilities and casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments.

On February 7 the government intends to lift proof of vaccination requirements in high-risk settings such as night clubs, strip clubs, bathhouses and sex clubs.

And on March 28, it is intended that remaining public health and workplace safety measures will be lifted including wearing face coverings in indoor public settings. Recommendations may be released for specific settings, if appropriate.

In addition, the provincial requirement for proof of vaccination will be lifted for all remaining settings, including meeting and event spaces, sporting events, concerts, theatres and cinemas, racing venues and commercial and film productions with studio audiences.

To manage COVID-19 over the long-term, local and regional responses by public health units will be deployed based on local context and conditions. Public health measures that may be applied locally could include reintroducing capacity limits and/or physical distancing, reducing gathering limits and adding settings where proof of vaccination is required, among others. Public health measures would be implemented provincially in exceptional circumstances, such as when the province’s health system capacity is at risk of becoming overwhelmed or if a vaccine resistant COVID-19 variant is identified in the province.

“We are now in a position where we can see the proposed plan for lifting the remaining public health and workplace safety measures in Ontario,” said Dr. Kieran Moore, chief medical officer of health. “The months ahead will require continued vigilance, as we don’t want to cause any more unnecessary disruption to people’s everyday lives. We must continue to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in our communities by following the public health measures in place and by vaccinating those who have not yet received their shots. Ontario has the infrastructure in place to manage outbreaks, including a high-volume capacity for testing, and people to perform fast and effective case and contact management when needed.”