Ontario lifts vaccine certificate system, remaining capacity limits in all indoor settings
Province reports fewer than 1,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations for 3rd straight day
Ontario is reporting fewer than 1,000 hospitalizations of people with COVID-19 for a third day in a row, as the province lifts all remaining capacity limits in indoor settings and scraps its vaccine certificate system Tuesday.
The province reported 914 people in hospital with the virus, slightly up from 849 the day before but down from 1,038 at the same time last week.
According to the Ministry of Health, about 45 per cent of those admitted to hospital were seeking treatment for COVID-19 symptoms, while 55 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have since tested positive for the virus.
Of the hospitalizations reported, there are 278 ICU patients, which is down from 279 the day before and 319 one week ago.
About 80 per cent were admitted to intensive care specifically for the virus, while the rest were admitted for other reasons and tested positive.
The province also reported 18 additional deaths, pushing the official death toll to 12,451.
Vaccination system, capacity limits lifted
Starting Tuesday, proof of COVID-19 vaccination is no longer required at most Ontario restaurants, gyms and movie theatres. Nightclubs, sporting and concert venues can get rid of capacity limits and restrictions are also lifting on social gathering sizes.
While Ontario is ending most of its major COVID-19 public health measures, Premier Doug Ford has said mask mandates will likely be in place for at least a couple more weeks.
COVID-19 hospitalizations and test positivity rates have fallen sharply from the January peak of the Omicron wave, though wastewater data suggests cases may be starting to rise again.
Ford says that the vaccine certificate system was always intended to be time-limited, and he is only now removing it due to the advice of the chief medical officer of health, but people should still exercise caution because the pandemic isn't over.
Venues that still had capacity limits in place, including sports arenas, concert venues, theatres, nightclubs, and restaurants where there is dancing, can now scrap those restrictions.
As well, settings where capacity had been limited to the number of people who could maintain two metres of distance - including weddings and funerals, as well as retail shops, pharmacies and grocery stores — can eliminate that requirement.
Patrons outside of an Etobicoke gym expressed relief Tuesday morning for not needing to show their QR code at the door.
"I think it's a good idea. We get in now with everybody. I know [whoever] comes in here has been vaccinated anyway and it just makes life more like what it used to be and more normal. And I just hope we don't have to go back to what we had before," Rich Coles said on Tuesday.
"It's been hard for everybody," he said.
Another gym goer, Arlene Ali, said "it's about time" the province dropped its vaccine system, adding that "people have suffered long enough."
Some patrons, staff feel 'safer' with vaccine policies in place
A number of businesses, including some restaurants, recreational facilities and museums, say they will maintain their vaccination requirements for now.
Gil Filar, general manager at the Rosedale Diner in Toronto, said his restaurant will still require patrons to show proof of vaccine after discussing it with staff and regular customers — adding that it was primarily a "business decision."
"The general consensus was that they would feel safer if we maintained this public health measure that has worked well for us in the past," Filar told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Tuesday.
"We have a very small, tight-knit space. People are close to one another regardless, so we feel that doing whatever we can to ensure their safety matters. At least until we see a dramatic decrease in ICU counts."
Similarly, Serena Whitney, programming director at the Revue Cinema in Toronto's west end, told CBC Radio's Metro Morning that the theatre will continue requiring proof of vaccination for all of its regular screenings and special events until April 4. The move comes after customers expressed "not feeling comfortable" if the requirement was lifted.
Whitney said the theatre was receiving "a lot" of emails and calls for refunds from filmgoers who bought advance tickets to upcoming screenings and were under the assumption that proof of vaccination would still be required.
"We just want to honour that commitment to our ticket buyers and also give people a little more time to ease into this transition," Whitney said on Tuesday.
One Etobicoke restaurant owner said his business will no longer require proof of vaccine at its door but will continue to maintain strict masking rules for the safety of both staff and patrons.
"Today we hopefully will be able to move one step closer to normalcy. It's been a long two years," said Sergio Castano-Garcia, owner of Sunny Morning Breakfast and Lunch.
"We've had a difficult time getting back to normal pre-pandemic levels every time we go back to full capacity. If we're lucky, people will feel safe. Hopefully [they] will have their vaccines and feel more protected."
Ontario government workers to return to office in April: memo
Meanwhile, Ontario Public Service staff who are working remotely can choose to return to work in-person starting Tuesday and will have to go in three days a week starting next month, according to a memo obtained by CBC Toronto.
"As of Monday, April 4, 2022, employees working remotely should expect to return to the workplace for a minimum of three days per week. This does not replace any existing alternate work arrangements in place prior to the pandemic," the memo reads."
"This is a temporary hybrid model. Work is underway with leaders, employees, and bargaining agents on the future of work," it reads.
Wastewater data suggests 'early signs of resurgence'
All COVID-19 measures except masking are also ending in the provincial legislature, meaning representatives will not be grouped into cohorts and full attendance will be allowed at debates, committees and other legislative matters.
The Opposition NDP, meanwhile, say some measures at the legislature should stay in place because elected members should lead by example and not pretend that the pandemic is over.
The move comes after the latest wastewater surveillance data — which helps determine the level of coronavirus infection in areas of the province — suggested "early signs of a resurgence" of COVID-19 viral load across Ontario, said Dr. Peter Juni, scientific director of Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table.
Juni said wastewater analysis shows that Ontario has reached the bottom of the trough, or valley, in terms of COVID-19 infections, but there is a slight upward trend in the concentration of viral prevalence in wastewater across the province.
With files from Sara Jabakhanji and The Canadian Press