Here's what changes in Ontario as COVID-19 restrictions are loosened
Some measures are being eased across the province, some only where Stage 2 reopening begins
Ontario eases some of its COVID-19 emergency restrictions on Friday, with certain changes taking effect everywhere in the province and others happening only in regions approved for Stage 2 of the government's reopening plan.
It marks the most significant loosening of the province's pandemic closure orders since a state of emergency was declared nearly three months ago.
Across Ontario on Friday:
- The maximum size of a social gathering increases to 10.
- Worship services inside churches, mosques and temples are allowed to resume, with attendance capped at 30 per cent of the building's normal capacity.
- Child-care centres can open, with limits on the number of children grouped in one space.
- Shopping malls can reopen.
- Restaurants and bars can serve customers seated outdoors.
- Barber shops, hair salons and tattoo parlors can operate.
- Swimming pools, campgrounds, guided tours can resume.
Excluded from those Stage 2 changes are the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, as well as the regions of Niagara, Windsor-Essex, Lambton and Haldimand-Norfolk. All those areas remain at Stage 1 of the reopening plan because their numbers of new cases of COVID-19 have not dropped sufficiently to satisfy public health officials that the spread of the novel coronavirus is under control.
Government officials have not indicated when these regions will move to the next stage, but have said status updates will be announced weekly on Mondays.
While the maximum size of social gatherings is rising to 10 people, up from the previous limit of five, physical distancing is still required, Health Minister Christine Elliott said Thursday.
She said she will "in the very near future" have an announcement about whether members of different households can group together without physical distancing, sometimes known as a multi-family bubble.
The guidelines for Friday's resumption of child-care centres were only released by the province on Tuesday night. People working in the sector have said this did not provide enough lead time to prepare.
Premier Doug Ford brushed off questions about the short notice for child-care centres. "If you aren't ready, don't open," Ford said Thursday during his daily news conference at Queen's Park.
"There's not an emergency. You don't have to rush."
Before adopting the regional phase-out of COVID-19 prevention measures, Ford had on multiple occasions rejected calls for allowing less-affected parts of the province to reopen sooner. He suggested that people would drive from the harder-hit Toronto area to cities such as Kingston for dinner, a two-and-a-half-hour journey.
Under the changes that happen Friday, Torontonians don't have to travel quite so far if they are desperate to eat on a restaurant patio or get their hair cut. Cities such as Guelph, Barrie and Peterborough, each within an hour of the GTA, are moving into Stage 2.
While no travel restrictions are being imposed, public health officials are asking the more than eight million people who live in Ontario's Stage 1 regions not to flood into the areas where restrictions are looser and case numbers are lower.
They are also reminding people to continue taking all steps to reduce the spread of the virus: practising physical distancing (staying two metres away from people outside your household), wearing a mask if physical distancing is not possible, washing your hands regularly and avoiding touching your face.
"If you are in the GTA and you're symptomatic, please don't leave," said Nitin Mohan, an epidemiologist and adjunct professor at Western University in London, Ont.
"For your protection and protection of the communities, if you think you've had a recent exposure [to COVID19], please don't leave. We still have the virus in our communities, and it's important that we don't transfer it to other regions."
As of Thursday, 20 public health units had no more than 10 active cases of COVID-19, according to the provincial database. Six of those public health units were reporting no active cases at all.
The regional relaxation of emergency measures "is the right strategy for us to take," said Mohan. "It's important to follow the data, and the evidence in this case shows the correct approach is a regional manner."
Provincial figures showed more than 1,200 active cases in Toronto on Thursday, nearly 800 in Peel Region (including the cities of Mississauga and Brampton) and another 200 in York Region (including the cities of Vaughan and Markham).
About 78 per cent of all active cases in the province are in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.