In an effort to slow the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, the province of Ontario has been subject to the more stringent public health and workplace safety requirements of the modified Step 2 of its Roadmap to Reopen since early January. In the absence of concerning trends in public health and health care indicators, the government of Ontario has now begun the gradual resumption of its reopening plans. Specifically, as of 12:01 a.m. on January 31, 2022, all public health units throughout the province were moved to Step 3 of the Roadmap to Reopen.
What does this mean in terms of public health and workplace safety restrictions?
Businesses and organizations in areas at Step 3 of the Roadmap to Reopen are now subject to the rules and restrictions contained in O. Reg. 364/20 (Rules for Areas at Step 3 and at the Roadmap Exit Step). These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Capacity limits for most indoor public settings are increased or maintained at 50%, including but not limited to:
- Restaurants, bars, other food and drink establishments without dance facilities and strip clubs,
- Non-spectator areas of facilities used for sports and recreational fitness activities, like gyms and businesses offering personal training,
- Meeting and event spaces,
- Museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos, science centres, landmarks, historic sites, botanical gardens and similar attractions, and
- Casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments.
- The number of patrons permitted to sit at a table in bars, restaurants, meeting and event spaces, and in other venues at which food and drink is sold or served, including nightclubs, restobars and strip clubs, is limited to 10 people, all of whom must remain seated.
- Singing and dancing in restaurants and bars and other select setting is prohibited except for workers or performers.
- Indoor spectator areas of facilities used for sports and recreational fitness activities, such as sporting events, as well as concert venues and theaters are permitted to operate at 50% of their usual seating capacity or 500 people, whichever is less.
- Food and drink services at indoor sporting events, concert venues, theatres and cinemas, bingo halls and other gaming establishments, as well as at horse racing tracks, car racing tracks and other similar venues is prohibited.
- Patrons are required to remain seated at concert venues, theaters and cinemas.
It is important to also note the following additional rules and restrictions:
- Social gathering limits are increased to ten (10) people indoors and 25 people outdoors.
- Capacity limits for indoor organized public events are increased to 25 people.
With the move to Step 3 of the Roadmap to Reopen, the government of Ontario has also removed the legal requirement to engage in remote work except where necessary, though this continues to be strongly recommended where possible by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore. Where businesses and organizations are operating or offering services in-person, masking and proof of vaccination requirements continue to apply in existing settings. Notably, however, the requirement to collect patron contact information for contact tracing purposes does not.
What comes next?
The government of Ontario has indicated that it intends to follow a cautious and phased approach to lifting public health and workplace safety requirements. In the result, its current plans include a further easing of public health restrictions in 21-day increments. Further information on the measures anticipated to come into effect on February 21, 2022 and on March 14, 2022 can be found on the Ontario government’s website, along with additional details on its COVID-19 public health measures and advice.
In Our View
The recent move to Step 3 of the Roadmap to Reopen will be welcome news for many businesses and organizations throughout Ontario that have been negatively affected by the most recent public health and workplace safety restrictions related to the Omicron variant. It appears that if all goes according to current projections, most of these settings will no longer be required to enforce COVID-19 related capacity limits and will be subject to more limited public health measures before spring.
Although unrelated to the move to Step 3 of the Roadmap to Reopen, it is important to also note that the deadline for COVID-19 boosters in long-term care homes was recently extended. Although all eligible staff and caregivers in such settings were originally required to receive their third dose of a COVID-19 vaccination by no later than January 28, 2022, this deadline has now been pushed back to March 14th.