Outdoor dining will be allowed to resume Saturday in Toronto and Peel Region under modifications to the grey-lockdown zone and indoor dining capacities will be raised in red and orange zones, provincial officials said Friday.
The move follows a meeting by Premier Doug Ford and his cabinet to discuss the modifications.
The change means restaurants and bars will be able to serve people from the same household outdoors, with proper distancing and other health safety measures.
Businesses will also have to post visible signs outdoors stating their maximum occupancy.
Indoor dining at restaurants and bars will still not be allowed in grey-lockdown zones.
The province is also modifying the rules for areas in the red and orange zones to allow dining inside of restaurants at up to 50 per cent capacity, to a maximum of 50 people in red zones and 100 people in orange zones. Previously a maximum of 10 people were allowed inside red zone restaurants and 50 people were allowed inside orange zone restaurants.
Whether indoors or outdoors, only people who live together can dine together at restaurants, with exceptions for people who live alone and caregivers.
The new rules will come into effect as of 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, March 20.
The move comes as officials try to balance an extended lockdown and the dangers of a third wave of COVID-19 with the need to provide some relief for lockdown-weary businesses and residents.
The medical officers of health in both Peel and Toronto had recently expressed support for easing some restrictions in those areas without completely moving to a less restrictive tier in the province’s reopening framework.
Restaurants and bars in Toronto and Peel have been limited to takeout and delivery for months, making it impossible for many businesses to continue.
Some reaction mixed; officials urge caution
While many people will welcome the changes, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health urged caution in a statement announcing the modifications.
“While some regions are proceeding to levels with less restrictive measures and adjustments are being made to dining capacity, everyone must continue to adhere to all public health and workplace safety measures,” Dr. David Williams said. “We have entered the third wave of the pandemic and the rates of variants of concern continue to rise so it is important that people remain cautious and vigilant in order to minimize the transmission of COVID-19 and protect themselves and their communities.”
On Wednesday, Toronto’s medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa acknowledged that there is some “exhaustion” in the city after the prolonged lockdown. She said that “modest steps forward in the realm of outdoor activity are a good proving ground at this time.”
Officials have warned that Ontario is already at the start of a third wave which could see more explosive case growth due to the prevalence of more contagious variants of concern.
Some public health officials offered mixed reaction to the changes Friday.
In a tweet, infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch said outdoor dining is a relatively safe activity that could help with harm reduction, but he questioned why it is necessary to increase indoor dining capacity in other areas where outdoor dining is already permitted.
Dr. Michael Warner, who serves as director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital, said the government is “pushing and pulling at the same time.”
“On the same day I am being asked if I can accept ‘rescue transfers’ from overwhelmed ICUs in the GTA, @ongov is going to increase capacity at red zone restaurants to up to 50 people.”
Warner said modifications in the grey zone make sense, given that there is little risk in COVID-19 transmission of outdoor environments. However, he is concerned about the changes in the red zone.
“Indoor dining, where you have to take your mask off, puts people in a position where COVID-19 is much more likely to spread. And if we increase capacity from 10 individuals up to 50, it could potentiate the spread,” Warnes said in an interview with CP24 Tonight.
“Variants are on the rise, cases on the rise, ICUs are experiencing more patients with a higher degree of pressure. Why would we do something that could make our situation in wave three worse than it already is?”
Dr. Martin Betts, the chief and medical director of the critical care program at Scarborough Health Network, said the variants have created an “extra pandemic.”
“We know these viruses spread like wildfire. And so many have talked about this being a new wave,” he said.
“In a lot of ways, you can view this as being a fire that burns hotter and hotter. And so, we’re starting to see those embers come back and affect particular regions in my region in Scarborough.”
Earlier Friday, Bogoch told CP24 that moderate loosening of restrictions could be beneficial given the lower risk of transmission outdoors.
“We are over a year into this. We know how to do other things safely… We know, for example, that outdoor activities are way, way, way safer than indoor activities,” he said.
“I think you are not going to find anywhere on planet earth… that is 100 per cent risk-free,” he said. “And I think the attitude is how do we do things safely rather than cancel everything.”
Speaking to CP24 on Friday morning, Toronto Mayor John Tory said it would be “sensible” to give people more outdoor options at this point.
“If outdoors the risk is considerably reduced, which it is (and) always has been, then why can’t we leave grey in place so we have all the restrictions on the social gatherings… but move to allow outdoor dining, for example, so people can have that opportunity to be outside and the businesses, quite frankly, can have a bit of relief,” Tory said.
He said restaurants would still have to adhere to all of the public health guidelines, including providing appropriate physical distancing.
“We have to take into account, yes of course the health numbers, (they are) very important, but also the psychology of people, the state of the economy, and the reality of the regions where we are surrounded by people who are in a different state of affairs and people are going off and visiting other regions,” he said.
The province said it would continue to work with local medical officers of health on further possible modifications to the zone restrictions.
Earlier this week, Dr. Peter Juni, the director of Ontario’s science advisory table, called for a strict three-week lockdown in the Golden Horseshoe region to help prevent explosive case growth due to the more transmissible COVID-19 variants.
New data released this week estimates that each person with a variant case is now infecting 1.35 other people, an alarmingly high reproductive number Ontario as a whole hasn’t seen since April of last year.
More areas moving to tighter restrictions
The province also announced Friday that on Monday, March 22, a number of health units will move into more restrictive zones.
Areas moving to red include Brant County Health Unit; Chatham-Kent Public Health; and Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit.
The Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health Unit will be moving to orange.
Several areas will be moving into yellow, including: Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health; North Bay Parry Sound District; Porcupine Health Unit; and Timiskaming Health Unit.
Article From: CP24