The Ontario government says it will allow some medical procedures to resume and will loosen some restrictions on businesses as it eases public health restrictions next week.
The province previously said that it would move to reopen indoor dining, gyms and movie theatres on Jan. 31 following several weeks with modified Step 2 restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the Omicron variant.
Providing further detail Thursday, the province said that most businesses will no longer have to collect contact information from patrons as of Jan. 31.
Speaking with reporters Thursday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore explained that the government is trying to prioritize case and contact management capacity for the highest risk and most vulnerable populations.
“The amount of virus in the community is not such that individual case contact management will have any benefit,” Moore said. “I think on an individual level, you have to identify your risks, you have to monitor your symptoms on a daily basis.”
In a news release, the province said the move “is aligned with recent changes to the testing and case and contact management guidance” and that it will allow businesses “to focus their efforts on the enforcement of other public health measures in these settings, such as masking requirements.”
In addition, people will no longer be legally required to work at home if they’re able to, though Moore is still recommending that people who can work from home continue to do so in order to limit their contacts.
Food and drink will also be allowed at indoor sporting events, concert venues, theatres and cinemas, bingo halls and other gaming establishments, racing tracks and other similar venues.
However people will be required to remain seated while eating or drinking at the venues. Masks will still be required when not eating or drinking.
SOME HEALTH-CARE SERVICES TO RESUME
The province also said Thursday that it will take a “phased approach” to resuming some health services that were paused when hospitals were ordered to ramp down non-urgent procedures.
The initial phase will allow a number of paused activities to resume as early as Jan. 31, including pediatrics, diagnostic services, cancer screening, some ambulatory clinics, private hospitals and independent health facilities.
“This approach is in line with our cautious and gradual approach to easing public health measures, while recognizing the ongoing pressures our hospitals are facing,” the province said. “Careful resumption of this activity, in these targeted areas, is least likely to adversely impact inpatient capacity readiness or health human resources in hospitals.”
The Ministry of Health noted that this does not mean all hospitals will immediately resume the surgical and procedural activities that were paused.
The ministry said hospitals will need to “meet certain criteria and will make decisions based on local context and conditions.”
Further details are expected to be provided in the coming days, Moore said.
As of Monday, social gathering limits will also increase to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.
‘HAVE TO LEARN TO LIVE WITH THIS VIRUS’
Explaining some of the changes Thursday, Moore said Ontario is taking a “balanced” and “data-driven” approach to reopening that will slowly move toward something resembling an endemic stage.
“I think we have to start to understand we have to learn to live with this virus,” he said.
He said life has been controlled over the past two years by “a significant amount of fear” and that “we’re going to have to change some of that thinking” now that we have better tools to deal with the pandemic, such as vaccines and drugs.
“The pandemic is evolving. We’re getting new interventions, we may get even newer vaccines that some of those that were hesitant may want to review,” Moore said.
“But we have to have a balanced and proportionate response to this virus. And we have to look at the mental, the physical, the social, the economic, and the educational impacts that this virus has had on our children and our businesses.”
He acknowledged at the same time that the level of caution around the virus will “never be exactly right for everybody.”
Moore ended on a hopeful note, saying that he sees the risk from the virus decreasing month-by-month in the near future, barring unforeseen developments.
“I am hopeful and anticipating March and April having much lower risk for all Ontarians,” he said.