Ontario Government Plans to Lift COVID-19 Public Health and Workplace Safety Measures by March 2022

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On October 22, 2021, the Ontario government announced its long-term reopening plans with respect to COVID-19.  In consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH), the Ontario government outlined milestone dates for the lifting of public health and workplace safety measures.  The last milestone is the lifting of all restrictions, including wearing face coverings in indoor settings, by March 28, 2022.

The incremental approach will be guided by continued assessment and monitoring of public health and health care indicators, including the emergence of any new COVID-19 variants, increases in hospitalizations and ICU occupancy, and rapid increases in COVID-19 transmission.  As long as concerning public health and health care trends are absent, public health and workplace safety measures will be lifted in accordance with the timeline below.

October 25, 2021

As detailed in in O. Reg. 727/21Amending O. Reg. 364/20 (Rules for Areas at Step 3 and at the Roadmap Exit Step) (the “Regulation”), on October 25, 2021, capacity limits were lifted in most settings where proof of vaccination is required, such as:

  • Restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments;
  • Indoor areas of sports and recreational facilities such as gyms, areas for spectators inside those facilities, and areas where personal physical fitness trainers provide instruction inside those facilities;
  • Waterparks;
  • Casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments; and
  • Indoor meeting and event spaces.

Additionally, certain businesses and settings that were not previously required by regulation to obtain proof of vaccination and identification from individuals accessing their premises, as discussed in a previous Focus Alert, can elect to comply with the proof of vaccination requirements as if they were covered.  In doing so, they will be allowed to lift capacity limits and physical distancing requirements.

This election can be made each day the business or facility is open to the public and is in effect for the duration of the day on which it is made.  While the election is in effect, the person responsible for the business or facility must post signs at all entrances to the premises, in a conspicuous location visible to the public, to inform patrons that proof of vaccination is required to enter the premises.

The businesses and settings able to opt in to the proof of vaccination requirement are:

  • Businesses that provide personal care services relating to the hair or body, including hair salons and barbershops, manicure and pedicure salons, aesthetician services, piercing services, tanning salons, spas and tattoo studios;
  • Museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos, science centres, landmarks, historic sites, botanical gardens and similar attractions, in respect of indoor areas;
  • Amusement parks, in respect of indoor areas;
  • Fairs, rural exhibitions, festivals and similar events, in respect of indoor areas;
  • Businesses that provide tour and guide services, including guided hunting trips, tastings and tours for wineries, breweries and distilleries, fishing charters, trail riding tours, walking tours and bicycle tours, in respect of indoor areas;
  • Businesses that provide boat tours, if the business is otherwise permitted to operate under the Specific Rules at Step 3;
  • Marinas, boating clubs and other organizations that maintain docking facilities for members or patrons, in respect of indoor areas;
  • Indoor recreational amenities;
  • Outdoor recreational amenities, in respect of indoor clubhouses;
  • Real estate agencies, in respect of open houses hosted by the real estate agency;
  • Photography studios and services, in respect of indoor areas; and
  • Locations where a wedding, funeral, or religious service, rite, or ceremony takes place, except for those taking place at a private dwelling.

As before, proof of vaccination is not required at locations where people receive medical care or supplies, or food from grocery stores.

The government indicated that it intends to allow increased capacity at organized public events like Remembrance Day ceremonies or Santa Claus parades, with details to come.

November 15, 2021

Capacity limits will be lifted in remaining higher-risk settings where proof of vaccination is required, including:

  • Food or drink establishments with dance facilities (e.g. night clubs, wedding receptions in meeting/event spaces where there is dancing); and
  • Strip clubs, bathhouses and sex clubs.

January 17, 2022

If there are no concerning public health and health care trends after the winter holiday period and the return of students to in-class learning, the province will gradually lift capacity limits in settings where proof of vaccination is not required.  Additionally, the CMOH will lift CMOH Directives as appropriate.

Proof of vaccination requirements may also be gradually lifted, including for the following:

  • Restaurants, bars and other food and drink establishments;
  • Facilities used for sports and recreational facilities; and
  • Casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments.

February 7, 2022

Proof of vaccination requirements will be lifted in high-risk settings, including night clubs, strip clubs, bathhouses, and sex clubs.

March 28, 2022

Remaining public health and workplace safety measures, including the requirement to wear face coverings in indoor public settings, will be lifted.  The government may release recommendations for specific settings as appropriate.

Proof of vaccination will be lifted for all remaining settings, including:

  • Meeting and event spaces;
  • Sporting events;
  • Concerts, theatres and cinemas;
  • Racing venues; and
  • Commercial and film productions with studio audiences.

COVID-19 will be managed over the long term through local and regional responses by public health units based on local conditions and context.  Local measures could include reintroducing capacity limits and/or physical distancing requirements, reducing gathering limits, and adding settings where proof of vaccination is required.

In exceptional circumstances, such as a risk of the provincial health system becoming overwhelmed or the identification of a vaccine-resistant COVID-19 variant in the province, public health measures would be provincially implemented.

In Our View

It will be helpful for employers to have a sense of the government’s plans with respect to the lifting of public health and workplace safety measures.  However, employers should keep in mind that these milestones are contingent on continued favourable public health and health care indicators.  Any plans that take these milestones into account should therefore be flexible and subject to change based on developments in the pandemic and the government’s responses to those developments.

For more information, please contact Colleen Dunlop at 613-940-2734 and Jennifer Birrell at 613-940-2740.