Most of Ontario outside of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) will be permitted to enter stage three of the province’s reopening plan by the end of the week, allowing for the resumption of indoor dining at bars and restaurants and the reopening of gyms, movie theatres and other entertainment venues.

Premier Doug Ford announced on Thursday that 24 of Ontario’s 34 public health units will move to stage three as of 12:01 a.m. on Friday, July 17.

That means that bars and restaurants in those regions can begin serving customers indoors once again provided that physical distancing requirements are followed and all patrons are seated when eating or drinking.

It also means that the limit on indoor gatherings in those regions will be increased from 10 to 50 people with the limit on outdoor gatherings going up to 100 people.

The entire GTHA will remain in stage two for now as will communities within the Niagara, Windsor-Essex, Haldimand-Norfolk and Lambton health units.

“As we all know, these regions entered stage two later on so we need just a little more time. I want the people in these regions to know that we won't leave anyone behind and we will provide an update every Monday on regional reopenings,” Ford said in making the announcement. “We will keep working until every part of this province gets to Stage 3.”

Gyms and community centres can reopen

The Ford government says that “nearly all businesses and public spaces will be able to gradually reopen” in stage three with only “high-risk venues and activities” remaining off-limits.

As part of stage three, gyms and fitness studios that have been closed since March will be able to reopen as will community centres and other indoor recreational venues, such as bowling alleys and pool halls.

Amateur sports leagues can also resume can also resume but the Ford government says that contact sports will not be allowed for the time being and that there must be no more than 50 participants per league.

There will also be a wider restart of the entertainment industry as part of stage three with movie theatres allowed to reopen and concerts and artistic events again allowed to take place, so long as audiences are capped at 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. It should be noted that those gathering limits apply to entire facilities, which could create issues for large movie theatres with multiple screens.

Meanwhile, playgrounds will also be able to reopen as will libraries that were previously limited to curbside pickup only.

The province will also lift a previous prohibition on personal support services that involve a customers’ face, such as facials and some piercings.

“Just because we are going to stage three doesn’t mean we have to let our guard down,” Ontario’s Medical Officer of Health. Dr. David Williams warned during a briefing later on Monday afternoon. “While we are opening up things we are still asking the public to be diligent.”

Toronto may not move to next stage until end of July

Most of Ontario has been in stage two of the province’s reopening plan since June 12 but Toronto and Peel Region only advanced to that stage on June 24 as part of a staged reopening.

Speaking with reporters at Monday’s press conference, Health Minister Christine Elliott said that health officials need about four weeks of data to decide whether it is safe to proceed to the next stage in any given region.

For that reason, she said that she suspects that the next group of communities to advance to stage three will included other parts of the GTA that advanced to stage two on June 19 but not necessarily Toronto and Peel Region.

“We expect that the next group will be the second group that moved into stage two and then Toronto will follow,” she said.

Some things to remain closed

The Ford government has said that 90 per cent of Ontario’s economic activity was able to resume as part of stage two and that stage three will add to that.

Nonetheless, there are some things that will remain closed for the foreseeable future.

Buffet-style food services will remain shuttered for now, as will private karaoke rooms, overnight camps for children, amusement parks and water parks, saunas and steams rooms and nightclubs.

Casinos, meanwhile, will be allowed to reopen but table games will not be allowed.

“Certainly we are all hoping that there will be a vaccine in short order but apart from that we will remain in stage three,” Elliott said. “If we keep our numbers down and if there are no new outbreaks of COVID-19 then we will be able to gradually expand things like the size of gatherings for example but there will be some areas that are not considered safe to reopen.”

These are the regions moving forward to Stage 3 on Friday:

  • Algoma Public Health
  • Brant County Health Unit
  • Chatham-Kent Public Health
  • Eastern Ontario Health Unit
  • Grey Bruce Health Unit
  • Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit
  • Hastings Prince Edward Public Health
  • Huron Perth Public Health
  • Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health
  • Leeds Grenville & Lanark District Health Unit
  • Middlesex-London Health Unit
  • North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit
  • Northwestern Health Unit
  • Ottawa Public Health
  • Peterborough Public Health
  • Porcupine Health Unit
  • Public Health Sudbury & Districts
  • Region of Waterloo Public Health and Emergency Services
  • Renfrew County and District Health Unit
  • Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit
  • Southwestern Public Health
  • Thunder Bay District Health Unit
  • Timiskaming Health Unit
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health