TORONTO – Province-wide capacity limits and restrictions will go into effect Sunday as COVID-19 cases skyrocket, fuelled by the more-infectious Omicron variant.
Beginning December 19 at 12:01 a.m. businesses will operate at 50 per cent normal occupancy. This includes grocery stores and pharmacies, non-essential retail businesses, restaurants, bars, theatres, sporting venues, and personal care businesses.
“The decision to limit people’s ability to gather, especially during the holidays, is an extremely difficult one to make,” Premier Doug Ford said announcing the new measures Friday afternoon (December 17). “This variant is unlike anything we’ve seen and if we don’t take every single precaution we can, the modelling tells a scary story.”
Further restrictions on restaurants and bars include a maximum of 10 people per table. In-person dining will close at 11 p.m., but take-out and delivery can continue to remain open later. The same restrictions are on bars and clubs that serve food. Alcohol serving must stop at 10 p.m.
At sporting venues, stadiums, bingo halls, and theatres no food or drinks are allowed so people do not have to take off their face masks.
Family gatherings will be smaller over the holiday season as informal gatherings also have limits imposed. Only 10 people are allowed for in-person gatherings, 25 people outdoors.
“The situation continues to evolve rapidly,” said Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health. “The modelling released yesterday is clear that unless action is taken quickly there could be severe consequences.”
The province’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table issued projections Thursday that said Ontario would reach 100 per cent capacity in hospital ICUs and 10,000 new COVID-19 infections diagnosed per day by December 31, if no restrictions were put in place.
“This is not the situation anyone wanted to be in,” Moore said. “Omicron will not take a holiday.”
As Ontario’s schools emptied today to start the Christmas break, there was no indication of students would return to class in January.
Speaking directly to parents Ford said, “I know you’re concerned about your kids’ schools and what to expect after the new year. I can tell you this, no decision has been made on what that looks like yet. We’re simply not in the position to say. The situation is evolving too quickly to know where we will be in January.”
Pharmacies across Ontario were able to start offering third-dose vaccine boosters to anyone 18 and older Friday, if it has been more than 84 days since their second dose. Online booking for anyone 18 and older will open through the provincial COVID-19 vaccination booking portal on Monday.
The Eastern Ontario Health Unit announced late Friday afternoon that it is no longer accepting walk-ins for its adult vaccination clinics due to increased demand for boosters.
“We are working to increase the capacity at our clinics and are continually adding appointments,” said EOHU Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis “By appointment clinics will help us vaccinate as many people as possible in an organized manner, while cutting down on the time people are waiting in lines.”
Absent from the government’s announcement this afternoon was any financial help for businesses that have their operations limited. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business called on the Ford government earlier today to “open the chequebook.” Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said the government is looking at it, and Ford called on the federal government to provide aid.
Ontario reported 3,124 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, the highest level reported since May 9. One week ago just over 1,400 new cases were reported. The EOHU reported 36 new cases in the region diagnosed today. As of December 17, there are 153 active COVID-19 infections including three in South Dundas.