Ontario could lift requirement for workplaces to have vaccine policies by March 1

Dr. Kieran Moore told CBC Radio's Metro Morning that key metrics including wastewater data and the rate of hospitalizations are showing a "profound decline."

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore says Omicron peak is 'behind us'

Starting Thursday, restaurants, gyms and cinemas that must screen patrons for vaccination against COVID-19 have no limits on capacity. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario's top doctor says immunization policies have "served their purpose" and that they could be removed as early as March 1.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore says the province is reviewing directives for the need for vaccination policies across various sectors, including colleges, universities and healthcare settings, and that his goal is to lift them by the start of the next month

Moore's comments come after he said earlier Thursday that the peak of the Omicron wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us as the province further eased public health measures Thursday.

On CBC Radio's Metro Morning, Moore said the key metrics including wastewater data and the rate of hospitalizations are showing a "profound decline."

"We certainly have the peak behind us," Moore said, though he acknowledged levels have since plateaued at what he called "a low level."

"We were worried about a rebound and that's why we've been watching the data so closely and we've been opening in a phased manner ... [but] I don't anticipate a significant rebound in cases."

As for mask requirements, Moore said he will be monitoring key indicators as the province moves to lift further restrictions on March 1, and will review masking requirements about two weeks after that.

Any change to the masking mandate will first likely see the province recommend rather than require them.

As of today, restaurants, gyms and cinemas that must screen patrons for vaccination against COVID-19 have no limits on capacity. Other indoor spaces that are using the proof-of-vaccination system are also no longer subject to capacity limits, while sports arenas and theatres can open to half capacity.

Social gatherings and public events can include up to 50 people indoors, and settings deemed higher risk like nightclubs and sex clubs can open to 25 per cent capacity.

Outdoor social gatherings can have up to 100 people and organized events have no limit on the number of people if they are held outdoors.

And vaccine passports will no longer be required in public settings starting March 1, though businesses may choose to keep it in place on their own. 

Hospitalizations, ICU counts continue to drop

Meanwhile, hospitalizations in the province continued to decline with 1,342 COVID-19 admissions reported Thursday, down from 1,403 the day before and down from 1,897 at the same time last week.

According to the Ministry of Health, 52 per cent of those people were admitted to hospital specifically for COVID-19 while 48 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have since tested positive for the virus.

Of those, 356 people are in intensive care units. That is slightly down from 364 the day before and 445 at the same time the week prior. Roughly 80 per cent were admitted to intensive care specifically for the virus, while the rest were admitted for other reasons.

The province reported 37 additional deaths Thursday, pushing Ontario's official death toll to 12,204.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said some COVID-19 vaccination related data will be unavailable Thursday.

Mandatory vaccination for hospital staff to remain

But while vaccination requirements for restaurants, gyms and other public settings may soon be lifted, mandates for staff and even visitors in some hospitals will likely be in place much longer.

Premier Doug Ford declined last year to implement a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for staff at hospitals — though only one hospital was opposed to it — but many put their own policies in place. 

The Canadian Press asked more than a dozen of those hospitals if they would be lifting their mandates as the province removes its vaccine certificate system next month. All said no.

A nurse in a personal protective equipment walks down a hospital corridor.
More than a dozen Ontario hospitals say they will not be removing their vaccine mandate when the province scraps its vaccine certificate system on March 1. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Anthony Dale, president and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association, said in a statement the "vast majority" of hospitals implemented their own mandatory vaccination policies and the association expects them to continue.

Health-care workers within Ontario's hospitals are already required to show evidence of immunity for certain communicable diseases such as measles, rubella, varicella, tuberculosis etc. at the time of hire, he wrote.

"At the end of the day, there is no reason to treat the COVID-19 vaccine any differently ... We all have a duty to get vaccinated as it helps to keep ourselves and those around us safe, including our most vulnerable in hospitals and other health-care settings."

SickKids, University Health Network, The Ottawa Hospital, Hamilton Health Sciences, Queensway Carleton Hospital, Bluewater Health, Chatham-Kent Health Alliance, London Health Sciences Centre and St. Mary's General Hospital are among those who say their staff vaccine mandates will remain.

The University Health Network said its policy is permanent.

Some hospitals say they may review their visitor restrictions, including mandatory vaccination policies and limiting the number of people who can visit.

With files from Sara Jabakhanji and The Canadian Press