When the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors open their respective seasons later this month, they will be playing in front of a full capacity crowd at Scotiabank Arena for the first time since the pandemic began.

The downtown sports and entertainment venue is among the select indoor and outdoor settings in Ontario that will be permitted to operate at full capacity starting on Saturday, Oct. 9 at 12:01 a.m.

The Ontario government announced Friday afternoon it is “cautiously lifting” capacity restrictions at several settings requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination. They include spectator areas of facilities for sports and recreational fitness, cinemas, theatres, concert arenas, horse and car racing tracks, and film and TV productions with studio audiences.

Meeting and event spaces will also be permitted to operate at 100 per cent but will still need to limit capacity to the number that can maintain physical distancing.

The changes also apply to certain outdoor settings that have a capacity below 20,000.

In a news release, Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said the capacity limits at these settings are being removed because “public health and health care indicators are continuing to trend in the right direction, and we are able to lift additional restrictions.”

Despite stable COVID-19 indicators, Moore urged Ontarians to remain cautious, saying “now is not the time to let our guard down.”

“We must all continue doing our part and continue strictly following the measures that remain in place and get as many people as we can fully vaccinated, especially as we enter the holiday season,” he said.

The province said masking, screening and collecting information to support contact tracing will continue in these settings, while physical distancing will not be required with some exceptions.

The province added that there have been limited outbreaks associated with these settings.

“As we continue to see more Ontarians roll up their sleeves with over 22 million doses administered, our government is cautiously lifting capacity limits in select settings where we know proof of vaccination requirements are providing an added layer of protection to Ontarians,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a statement.

“The fight against COVID-19 is not over and we must all remain vigilant by continuing to follow the public health measures we know work and keep us safe and receiving your first or second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine if you have not already done so.”

The announcement comes as the 2021-2022 NBA and NHL seasons approach. The Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment confirmed to CP24 that beginning with the Leafs’ home opener on Oct. 13 against the Montreal Canadians, all their events at Scotiabank Arena will be at full capacity.

Indoor sport venues in Ontario were previously only allowed a maximum of 10,000 people or 50 per cent capacity, whichever is lower.

In a statement, Michael Friisdahl, the president and chief executive officer of MLSE, said their organization is “overjoyed” with the announcement.

“We are grateful to all levels of government for their partnership in this process and we recognize there will continue to be much work to do together to ensure the safest environment possible for every event attendee and our community. Today, though, is an exciting day for our teams, our fans and our community and we look forward to a safe and enjoyable season,” he said.

The Toronto Raptors home opener will be on Oct. 20 against the Washington Wizards.

The Ontario Hockey League, whose season began on Thursday, also welcomed the announcement.

“We are grateful for the continued work and leadership of our government and public health officials led by Premier Doug Ford, Minister of Sport Lisa MacLeod and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore,” OHL Commissioner David Branch said in a statement.

“We’re very excited to welcome OHL fans back for what’s sure to be a great season.”

Cineplex said in a statement that they are reviewing the ‘exciting’ announcement and what it will mean for moviegoers in the province.

“In the meantime, we will continue to focus on the health and safety of our employees and guests. We are confident in our approach and our health and safety track record, noting that we have welcomed millions of movie-lovers during the pandemic, and we’ve had zero instances of transmission traced back to any of our cinemas,” Cineplex said.

‘Double standard’

While those in the sports and entertainment industry are happy with the news, restaurant and bar owners are demanding answers to why they have been excluded from welcoming more patrons.

Many had already voiced their frustration last month when the province approved the increase in capacity at those settings.

Under Step 3, restaurants and bars are allowed to have indoor and outdoor dining with capacity limits that enable physical distancing.

Celina Blanchard, the owner of Lambretta Pizzeria, told CP24 Friday afternoon that, like sports venues, restaurants are asking customers to provide proof of vaccination before they can dine inside.

"If everyone is vaccinated, and we're allowing people to come into the restaurant with their vaccine proof, then why are we not allowed to open it up to more people? I don't understand that. It seems to be a double standard here," Blanchard said.

"Why are you treating restaurants differently than the sports venues? I just want an answer. I don't understand the reason for this at all."

Restaurants Canada said it is disappointed that the foodservice industry that has suffered the longest closures and tightest restrictions was left out of Friday’s announcement.

“We have borne the expenses of PPE and safety protocols as well as the recent introduction of the vaccine passport system despite historic revenue losses. The industry has done everything asked of us, and yet we continue to be singled out,” Todd Barley, the organization’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

“Restaurants Canada is calling on the government to immediately lift all further restrictions on the industry and provide additional support to recognize the cost of implementing the vaccine passport program.”

Proof of vaccination to be required in weddings, funerals at meeting, event spaces

The Ontario government also announced that proof of vaccination or medical exemption will be required to attend wedding events, funeral services that are being held in a meeting or event space.

The province said a proof of a negative antigen test will no longer be permitted as an alternative in those settings.

It comes into effect on Oct. 13 at 12:01 a.m.