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On January 20, 2022, the Ontario government announced a three-step approach for gradually lifting most existing public health restrictions, which will begin with allowing certain establishments to reopen on January 31, 2022, such as gyms and indoor dining in restaurants, among other changes.

The government previously implemented enhanced public health restrictions on January 5, 2022, including reduced limits for social gatherings, reduced capacity limits of 50% for certain establishments, and closures of certain establishments such as gyms and indoor dining at restaurants (see our previous blog for more information).

A summary of the Ontario government’s three-step approach towards lifting most existing public health restrictions is set out below. Notably, each stage will last for at least 21 days to allow the government to assess key public health and health system indicators, and the province will only move to the next stage at the end of each 21-day period if these indicators do not reveal any concerning trends.

January 31, 2022

On January 31, 2022, certain public health restrictions that are currently in place will be eased or lifted as follows:

  • Social gathering limits will increase to ten individuals for indoor gatherings, and 25 individuals for outdoor gatherings;
  • Capacity limits will be increased (or maintained) at 50% for indoor public settings that include, but are not limited to:
  • restaurants, bars, and other food or drink establishments without dance facilities;
  • retailers (including grocery stores and pharmacies);
  • shopping malls;
  • non-spectator areas of sports and recreational facilities, including gyms;
  • cinemas;
  • meeting and event spaces;
  • recreational amenities and amusement parks, including water parks;
  • museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos, and similar attractions;
  • casinos, bingo halls, and other gaming establishments; and
  • religious services, rites, or ceremonies.

Furthermore, spectator areas for sporting events, concert venues, and theatres will be allowed to operate at a 50% capacity or 500 people, whichever is less.

Patrons will still be required to provide proof of vaccination, in the form of an enhanced vaccination receipt with QR code, to enter establishments where such proof was required prior to these establishments being forced to close on January 5, 2022.

February 21, 2022

Subject to any concerning public health trends, Ontario will continue easing/lifting public health restrictions on February 21, 2022, including by:

  • increasing social gathering limits to 25 people indoors and 100 people outdoors;
  • removing capacity limits for indoor public settings that require proof of vaccination, including restaurants, indoor sports and recreational facilities, cinemas, and other settings that chose to opt-in to proof-of-vaccination requirements (e.g., hair salons, museums, etc.);
  • increasing spectator capacity limits to 50% for sporting events, concert venues, and theatres;
  • limiting capacity for indoor public settings where proof of vaccination is not required (e.g., indoor religious services, rites, or ceremonies) to the number of individuals that can maintain a physical distance of two metres;
  • removing capacity limits for indoor religious services, rites or ceremonies where proof of vaccination is required;
  • increasing capacity limits to 25% in remaining higher-risk settings where proof of vaccination is required, such as nightclubs, wedding receptions in meeting or event spaces where there is dancing, bathhouses, and sex clubs.

Existing proof of vaccination requirements, and all other public health requirements applicable to businesses and organization, would continue to apply beyond February 21, 2022.

March 14, 2022

In the absence of any concerning public health trends, the Ontario government plans to ease/lift most remaining public health restrictions on March 14, 2022, including by:

  • lifting capacity limits in all indoor public settings;
  • lifting the remaining capacity limits on religious services, rites, or ceremonies; and
  • increasing social gathering limits to 50 people indoors and remove the limits completely for outdoor gatherings.

However, existing proof of vaccination requirements and all other remaining public health measures will continue to apply beyond March 14, 2022.

Takeaways for Employers

Ontario’s new three-phase approach for lifting COVID-related public health restrictions in the province offers some much-needed hope for employers whose operations have been seriously impacted by these restrictions—especially those who were forced to close their doors on January 5, 2022.

Employers operating establishments that are currently subject to reduced capacity limits or closures should begin planning sooner rather than later to reopen and/or resume operating at increased capacity. This includes ensuring that employees have up-to-date training on any public health restrictions relevant to their roles which will continue to apply, including but not limited to proof of vaccination requirements.

That said, employers should continually monitor for new COVID-related developments and be prepared to adapt in the event of unexpected changes, given how unpredictable the course of the pandemic has been thus far.

As always, we will continue to support employers by monitoring for new developments and providing prompt updates on this Resource Centre, to help keep your business or organization informed.

This blog is provided as an information service and summary of workplace legal issues.

This information is not intended as legal advice.