Ontario to enter Step 3 of COVID-19 reopening plan on July 16, days earlier than expected

The Ontario government is poised to move the province into Step 3 of the COVID-19 reopening plan nearly a week earlier than the previously expected date, officials confirmed Friday.

The province will move into Step 3 on Friday, July 16 at 12:01 a.m., five days ahead of schedule. Ontario was originally slated to move into the next step on July 21.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s new chief medical officer of health, is set hold a news conference at noon Friday.

Read more: Doug Ford says next steps in Ontario’s COVID-19 reopening plan to be announced within 3 weeks

Here’s is what’s changing in Step 3:

  • Outdoor social gatherings and organized public events with up to 100 people with limited exceptions;
  • Indoor social gatherings and organized public events with up to 25 people;
  • Indoor religious services, rites or ceremonies, including wedding services and funeral services permitted with physical distancing;
  • Indoor dining permitted with no limits on the number of patrons per table with physical distancing and other restrictions still in effect;
  • Indoor sports and recreational fitness facilities to open subject to a maximum 50 per cent capacity of the indoor space. Capacity for indoor spectators is 50 per cent of the usual seating capacity or 1,000 people, whichever is less. Capacity for outdoor spectators is 75 per cent of the usual seating capacity or 15,000 people, whichever is less;
  • Indoor meeting and event spaces permitted to operate with physical distancing and other restrictions still in effect and capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity or 1,000 people, (whichever is less);
  • Essential and non-essential retail with with capacity limited to the number of people that can maintain a physical distance of two metres;
  • Personal care services, including services requiring the removal of a face covering, with capacity limited to the number of people that can maintain a physical distance of two metres;
  • Museums, galleries, historic sites, aquariums, zoos, landmarks, botanical gardens, science centres, casinos/bingo halls, amusement parks, fairs and rural exhibitions, festivals, with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors;
  • Concert venues, cinemas, and theatres permitted to operate at:
    • up to 50 per cent capacity indoors or a maximum limit of 1,000 people for seated events (whichever is less)
    • up to 75 per cent capacity outdoors or a maximum limit of 5,000 people for unseated events (whichever is less); and up to 75 per cent capacity outdoors or a maximum of 15,000 people for events with fixed seating (whichever is less).
  • Real estate open houses with capacity limited to the number of people that can maintain a physical distance of two metres; and
  • Indoor food or drink establishments where dance facilities are provided, including nightclubs and restobars, permitted up to 25 per cent capacity or up to a maximum limit of 250 people (whichever is less).

However, the shift to an earlier date appeared to differ from what Moore previously indicated in terms of his preference for moving into Step 3.

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Under the three-step plan released on May 20, a minimum period of three weeks will be in place before Step 3 could come into effect. Based on the previously published criteria, the earliest Ontario was set to enter Step 3 would have been July 21.

During his first news conference, Moore said he expected the province would remain in Step 2 for at least three weeks due to concerns about COVID-19 variants.

Read more: Haircuts, small indoor gatherings now allowed as Ontario enters Step 2 of COVID-19 reopening plan

“With Delta being present, we obviously have to watch what is going on around the world where Australia and multiple cities have had to lockdown, Israel is back with masking in public spaces, Europe might be looking at further public health measures,” he said, noting the two-to-three-week intervals are important.

“We’re going to be watching internationally, nationally, provincially, locally — being data-driven and advise government based on data.”

In terms of the vaccination guidelines set out for Step 3 (between 70 and 80 per cent of eligible adults receiving their first vaccine dose and 25 per cent receiving their second dose), those thresholds have since been met.

Read more: Public Health Ontario COVID-19 data showing vaccines provide ‘high degree’ of protection

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Moore was pressed about possibly accelerating the move into Step 3. However, he reiterated past government messaging and said reduced hospitalizations, ICUs as well as the level of virus spread and its associated reproduction rate will all be weighed in the decision to leave Step 2 behind (the exact thresholds for each of those data metrics weren’t released).

There have been lingering questions about what will come during and after Step 3 over the past several weeks since the three-phase plan does not return Ontario to pre-pandemic opening and service levels.

This is a developing story that will be updated throughout the day.

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