By Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller
On January 31, Ontario took the first steps out of the Omicron restrictions. Restaurants reopened for indoor dining at 50 per cent capacity, gyms reopened at 50 per cent capacity, and spectator areas of indoor sports facilities were opened at 50 per cent capacity up to 500 people, all with proof of vaccination.
Then, on Monday, February 14, Premier Ford and the Chief Medical Officer of Health delivered a Valentine’s Day present when they announced that Ontario will begin to lift the capacity limits earlier than expected. As of this Thursday, February 17, capacity limits in most venues where proof of vaccination is required, such as restaurants, gyms, cinemas, and event spaces, will be removed. Larger venues like sports arenas will be allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity. As well, up to 50 people can gather indoors and 100 people can gather outdoors. At organized events there is no limit outdoors.
This is all being done on the advice of Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health. And it is all due to the hard work and sacrifices of Ontarians. Because Ontarians stepped up to get their vaccines and booster dose, limited their contacts, and followed public health measures like wearing a mask, we have passed the peak of the Omicron wave.
We see the evidence of this in hospitalizations which have dropped from a high of more than 4,000 to 1,400 as of Monday, the number of people in the ICU which has dropped from a high of more than 600 to less than 400, and test positivity rates which have dropped from a high of 40 per cent in early January to 13 per cent.
If these trends continue, the province has announced plans to remove the remaining capacity limits for all indoor venues as well as the proof of vaccination requirement for all settings on March 1. Our government will continue to work with the Chief Medical Officer of Health to make sure that these decisions are guided by science and the latest data.
This is great news for everyone, as I know that we are all tired of living with restrictions. Although these restrictions were necessary to protect our healthcare system, they were always meant to be temporary. Based on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, we feel confident that we can accelerate the reopening timeline while still protecting our healthcare system. But it is important that we continue to be cautious as we reopen. Please continue to wear a mask, stay home if you have symptoms, and get vaccinated if you are eligible.
As of this Friday, February 18 at 8:00 a.m., youth aged 12 to 17 years old who are 168 days (about six months) past their second dose will be eligible for a booster. You will be able to book an appointment through the provincial vaccination portal www.ontario.ca/bookvaccine, or through participating pharmacies.
I want to be clear that these reopening steps are being taken because key health indicators are trending downwards as a result of ordinary Ontarians doing what was asked of them to protect their friends, family, and our healthcare system. We can do this because 90 per cent of Ontarians 12 and over have received at least two doses of the vaccine and more than 50 per cent of adults have received a booster dose. And more than 50 per cent of children aged 5 to 11 have had their first shot while 25 per cent have had two doses.
Some people have claimed these changes were made in response to the illegal protests and blockades we have seen in Ottawa, Windsor, Sarnia, and elsewhere across Canada. As the Premier stated on Monday, that is not the case. These restrictions were always intended to be temporary and they are being removed now based on the medical evidence and advice of Dr. Moore.
Speaking of the protests, I want to say I support the right of people to hold peaceful protests. The right to protest is protected for all who live in a democratic society. But when those protests caused people to lose work because plants didn’t have enough parts, when truckers delivering food had to take long detours to get food to our grocery store shelves, and when residents were made uncomfortable in their own communities and even their own homes, those protests crossed the line from peaceful protest to blockade.
On Friday our government took the necessary steps to bring stability and order back by declaring a State of Emergency. The consequences for blocking critical infrastructure are now up to $100,000 in fines, the loss of personal or commercial licences, and/or up to a year in prison. This step will protect our economy and our communities. On Sunday night, the Ambassador Bridge peacefully reopened and I hope for peaceful resolutions to the situation in Ottawa and at other border crossings soon.
We are all exhausted from this pandemic. This has been a very difficult two years, and I want to thank everyone for doing what needed to be done to protect their families, neighbours, and our frontline workers. Although the fight is not over, Monday’s announcements are a reflection of the progress we’ve made in getting back to the life we knew before COVID-19.
Photo of MPP Norm Miller is courtesy of his office. Queen’s Park photo “June 2012 Ontario Legislature Toronto” by Priscilla Jordão, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.
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