The Ontario government is extending its pause on lifting capacity limits in remaining higher-risk settings where proof of vaccination against COVID-19 is required as case counts have been steadily rising across the province for the past month.
On Tuesday, the government, in consultation with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore, said it will not lift capacity limits for the time being in these settings “out of an abundance of caution.”
These settings include food and drink venues with dance facilities such as night clubs and wedding receptions, strip clubs, sex clubs and bathhouses.
“In line with Ontario’s cautious approach to date, as public health and medical experts learn more about the Omicron variant, we are continuing to take a deliberate pause in reopening to protect our hard-fought progress against COVID-19,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a statement.
According to the government’s reopening plan, capacity limits in these higher-risk settings were supposed to be lifted on Nov. 15, 2021 but that was paused less than a week beforehand due to an increase in COVID-19 cases.
The government did not give a date for when it plans to lift capacity limits in these settings but said it will continue to monitor trends in key public health units and the emergence of the Omicron variant that was first detected in South Africa two weeks ago.
Current restrictions limit nightclubs and bathhouses to 250 patrons or 25 per cent of pre-COVID capacity, whichever is less, while strip clubs can admit as many people as they can fit while still maintaining two metres of distance between all occupants.
The reopening plan also called for the lifting of vaccine certificates in some settings, such as restaurants, gyms and casinos, starting on Jan. 17, 2022 but yesterday Elliott said the system will likely stay in place for a while longer.
“We anticipate that we will need it for at least the next several months, if everything is all right, and maybe for longer than that, once we know more about the Omicron variant,” Elliott said during Question Period.
Today’s announcement comes as coronavirus infections have been rising in most public health units for the past month.
On Tuesday, the province logged 928 new cases, raising the seven-day rolling average to 975, up from 940 yesterday and 794 one week ago.
The province’s testing positivity rate also hit 3.8 per cent on Tuesday, the highest daily test positivity rate seen in Ontario since May 31.
Moore said it is not a surprise to see a rise in case counts as more people congregate inside due to the colder weather, but the Omicron variant poses more of a risk.
"While we expected to see increases as we entered the winter months the emergence of Omicron serves as a stark reminder of just how quickly things can change and how we must always keep our guard up," Moore said at a COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday.
"And while there are many unknowns what we do know is that the basic public health measures are effective against COVID-19 and the Delta variant and will also be effective against Omicron," he added.
As of Tuesday, there were 165 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units across the province.
The government said the province is able to admit roughly 300 patients with COVID-19 in ICUs without having to delay elective surgeries, which was seen during all three previous waves of the pandemic.
However, the province’s latest modelling data suggests ICU occupancy is expected to rise in the coming months due to the Omicron virus and could climb to between 250 and 400 by January.