Indoor dining banned, gyms to close Wednesday as Ontario announces new COVID-19 restrictions

By Meredith Bond and Lucas Casaletto

Indoor dining will be banned and gyms will be forced to close as the Ontario government goes back to a modified Step 2 of their COVID-19 roadmap aimed at stopping the rapid spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Gatherings will be reduced once again from 10 people indoors to five people, from 25 people to 10 people outdoors, and capacity at retail stores and malls will be lowered to 50 per cent, Premier Doug Ford also announced Monday.

“We face a tsunami of new cases in the days and weeks ahead. And as we do, virtually everyone in this province will know someone who has been exposed to this virus,” said Ford. “Now, we’re bracing for impact.”

The new measures will go into effect on Wednesday at 12:01 a.m. and be in place for at least three weeks (until Jan. 26) before being reassessed.

Restaurants and bars will be allowed to open for outdoor dining, takeout and delivery while personal care services will be reduced to 50 per cent capacity.

Schools will also be closed from Jan. 5 until Jan. 17 for in-person learning.

Hospitals have also been directed by the Chief Medical Officer of Health to pause all non-emergent and non-urgent surgeries to preserve critical care capacity.

Other restrictions include:

  • Limiting capacity at indoor weddings, funerals, and religious services, rites and ceremonies to 50 per cent capacity of the particular room. Outdoor services are limited to the number of people that can maintain 2 metres of physical distance. Social gatherings associated with these services must adhere to the social gathering limits.
  • Public libraries limited to 50 per cent capacity.
  • Restricting the sale of alcohol after 10 p.m. and the consumption of alcohol on-premise in businesses or settings after 11 p.m. with delivery and takeout, grocery/convenience stores and other liquor stores exempted.
  • Closing indoor concert venues, theatres, cinemas, rehearsals and recorded performances permitted with restrictions.
  • Closing museums, galleries, zoos, science centres, landmarks, historic sites, botanical gardens and similar attractions, amusement parks and waterparks, tour and guide services and fairs, rural exhibitions, and festivals. Outdoor establishments permitted to open with restrictions and with spectator occupancy, where applicable, limited to 50 per cent capacity.
  • Closing indoor horse racing tracks, car racing tracks and other similar venues. Outdoor establishments permitted to open with restrictions and with spectator occupancy limited to 50 per cent capacity. Boat tours permitted at 50 per cent capacity.
  • Closing indoor sport and recreational fitness facilities including gyms, except for athletes training for the Olympics and Paralympics and select professional and elite amateur sport leagues. Outdoor facilities are permitted to operate but with the number of spectators not to exceed 50 per cent occupancy and other requirements.
  • Limiting capacity at organized public events to five people indoors.
  • Requiring businesses and organizations to ensure employees work remotely unless the nature of their work requires them to be on-site.

The province says these measures are necessary in order to keep the hospital system from becoming overwhelmed. There were 248 patients reported in intensive care Monday, which is up from 224 the previous day and 1,232 people are hospitalized with the virus.

Public Health Ontario reported 13,578 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, warning that the figure underestimates the virus’s actual presence in the province due to limited testing.

A full list of the new restrictions can be found here.

Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table estimates the number of new cases per day to be just below 20,000, citing 97.8 per cent of the estimated percentage of these infections to be of the Omicron variant.

The premier said their data shows we could see up to a hundred thousand cases and with the hospitalization rate for Omicron around one per cent, Ford said, “Ontario Health modeling tells us we could be 1000s of beds short in the coming weeks. We can’t let that happen. This stat is clear call to further action.”

He says these measures will be time limited and aimed at blunting the wave of new cases, not stopping the spread. “I say slow the spread because it can’t be stopped, looking at other countries, other provinces. It’s too contagious to stop completely.”

Dr. Kieran Moore added the key indicator for lifting the restrictions will be hospital capacity as testing no longer accurately conveys how much the virus is spreading in the community.



Health officials concerned with COVID-related hospitalizations up

Many of the province’s infectious diseases specialists and physicians had already voiced their collective concern over the Ford government’s decision to only push back a return to class by a few days.

Critical care physician Dr. Michael Warner — who criticized the idea of pushing back the start date only 48 hours — says hospitals will continue to be overwhelmed by the Omicron variant.

“The way things are going, scheduled surgeries will be cancelled, and ERs will overflow. ICUs will not be able to transfer out patients, and ALC patients will have nowhere to go,” Warner said. “The next two months will be very difficult. I hope whatever cabinet decides will give us a chance.”

Citing the likelihood of future outbreaks and infected staff being forced to work, Warner says there is widespread concern that “the healthcare system could unravel very quickly.”

Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table released updated data showing Omicron’s growth spike as it continues to spread across the province.

Infectious diseases physician Dr. Isaac Bogoch says even if Omicron proves less contagious than Delta, the “massive number of new cases still results in hospitalization and puts pressure on a healthcare system that was stretched prior to this wave.”

“Even if a smaller percentage of people with Omicron require hospitalization, that small percentage of a very large number of infected people still ends up being a lot of hospitalizations,” Bogoch wrote on Twitter.

Much about the Omicron variant remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe illness. Scientists say Omicron spreads even easier than other COVID-19 strains, including Delta, and it is expected to become dominant in the U.S. by early 2022.

With files from The Canadian Press and John Marchesan of CityNews

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