Ontario government announces restrictions to address Omicron variant
In response to the rapidly-spreading and highly transmissible Omicron variant, the Ontario government announced Dec. 17 it is applying additional public health and workplace safety measures, including capacity and social gathering limits. The goal of the measures is to help curb transmission and to safeguard hospitals and ICU capacity as the province continues to rapidly accelerate its booster dose roll out, the provincial government said.“Throughout this entire pandemic, we’ve never faced an enemy like Omicron given how quickly it spreads,” said Premier Doug Ford. “We need to do everything we can to slow its spread as we continue to dramatically ramp up capacity to get as many booster shots into arms as possible. Doing so is the best way to safeguard our hospital and intensive care units.”
The latest modelling suggests that the increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant could put additional strain on Ontario’s hospital capacity, making it critical to slow the spread as the government dramatically increases vaccine capacity and expands eligibility for booster doses. The province recently doubled its vaccination capacity and continues to ramp up further to get as many vaccines into arms as possible. Over 156,000 doses were administered on December 16, 2021 with capacity increased to 200,000 to 300,000 in the coming days.
To further strengthen its response to Omicron and reduce opportunities for close contact as the province gets as many vaccines into arms as possible, Ontario is introducing a 50 per cent capacity limit in the following indoor public settings:
- Restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments and strip clubs;
- Personal care services; Personal physical fitness trainers;
- Retailers (including grocery stores and pharmacies); Shopping malls;
- Non-spectator areas of facilities used for sports and recreational fitness activities (e.g. gyms); Indoor recreational amenities; Indoor clubhouses at outdoor recreational amenities;
- Tour and guide services;
- Photography studios and services;
- Marinas and boating clubs;
- Facilities used for sports and recreational fitness activities;
- Entertainment facilities such as concert venues, theatres and cinemas;
- Racing venues; Meeting and event spaces; Studio audiences in commercial film and television production;
- Museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos, science centres, landmarks, historic sites, botanical gardens and similar attractions;
- Casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments; and Fairs, rural exhibitions, and festivals.
To further reduce the spread of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, additional protective measures are also being applied:
- The number of patrons permitted to sit at a table in a restaurant, bar and other food or drink establishment and meeting and event space will be limited to 10 people and patrons will be required to remain seated.
- Patrons must remain seated at concerts venues, theatres and cinemas.
- Bars and restaurants and meeting and event spaces and strip clubs that serve food and drink like a restaurant will be required to close by 11 p.m.
- Take out and delivery will be permitted beyond 11 p.m. Singing and dancing in restaurants and bars and other select settings will not be allowed except for workers or performers.
- Food and/or drink services will be prohibited at indoor sporting events; concert venues, theatres and cinemas; casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments; and horse racing tracks, car racing tracks and other similar venues.
- Restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments including in these establishment can operate subject to the rules applicable to these settings (e.g., 50% capacity).
- The sale of alcohol will be restricted after 10 p.m. and consumption of alcohol in businesses or settings after 11 p.m.
“This was not an easy decision to make before the holidays, but the evidence is clear that further public health measures are required to slow the spread of Omicron and prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “As we expand booster eligibility and continue our Team Ontario effort to get as many shots into arms as possible, I am urging every single person to get their vaccine if they haven’t already done so, and sign up for their booster shot as soon as they’re able.”
In addition, in response to emerging global evidence of substantial increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant, the Chief Medical Officer of Health is updating the personal protective equipment requirements outlined in Directive 5 to provide interim guidance to require N95s for health care workers providing direct care to or interacting with a suspected, probable or confirmed case of COVID.
“As the rapidly spreading Omicron variant becomes the dominant strain of COVID-19 in Ontario, it is necessary to apply additional public health and workplace safety measures to reduce transmission, protect our health system and save lives,” said Dr. Kieran Moore, Chief Medical Officer of Health. “We all have a role to play in keeping ourselves, friends, families, neighbours and communities safe this holiday season. Please follow all public measures and get vaccinated with your first, second or booster dose if you have not done so already. Omicron will not take a holiday.”
The government and the Chief Medical Officer of Health will continue to monitor trends in key public health and health care indicators, including emerging data on the Omicron variant and will continue to take swift action to ensure the health and safety of Ontarians.
"Thanks to our cautious and careful approach to re-opening, we are now in position to gradually lift all remaining public health measures over the coming months,” said Premier Doug Ford. “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 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. The government said the 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 ICU occupancy and rapid increases in transmission to ensure that public health and workplace safety measures are lifted safely.
See the full announcement