Ontarians greet end of measures with cheer, worry

TORONTO — Several Toronto cafes were nearly full on Tuesday morning as Ontario lifted proof-of-vaccination and capacity rules, along with most other COVID-19 public health measures.

Mask mandates remain in place but businesses like gyms, cinemas and restaurants no longer need to check patrons’ vaccination status and remaining capacity limits lifted for venues such as nightclubs, sporting arenas and concert halls. There’s also no longer a limit on the size of social gatherings.

In north Toronto, as residents met up with friends and co-workers to grab a bite, several said they were comfortable with restrictions lifting.

Toronto resident Dan Cronin said he thinks it’s time for fewer public health measures.

“If you chose not to get the vaccination, you’re taking your own risk,” Cronin said, noting he’s personally “not too concerned” about COVID-19 since he’s been vaccinated and caught the virus before.

Karline Tateossian said she was “very happy” about things returning to a sense of normalcy in Ontario and wasn’t nervous about restrictions loosening because she still plans to take precautions and wear a mask. She said she had missed socializing and hopes to go to restaurants with her friends and watch live theatre once the weather warms up some more.

“I live in a condo and I just can’t sit and stare at (a screen),” she said. “I really, really need to have that personal touch and socializing.”

Some residents, however, weren’t happy with the lifting of restrictions.

Rachel Rosen, an immunocompromised Toronto resident, said she was feeling “terrified” about things reopening on Tuesday. She said she felt the province’s reopening plan is “putting the burden of safety and survival” on those who are more vulnerable in order to “appease people who are just bored with the pandemic” or who have chosen to not get vaccinated.

“It just seems to me like the government is abandoning us in favour of dropping everything and making everybody take their own responsibility without clear guidelines, adequate testing, or any kind of metrics,” she said in an interview.

Restrictions on businesses have been repeatedly introduced and dialed back in the province since early 2020, as the COVID-19 disease curve has risen and fallen at various points.

Most recently, the province introduced a strict period of businesses closures in January as the Omicron variant drove up hospitalizations and strained the health system.

COVID-19 hospitalizations and test positivity rates have fallen sharply since then, though wastewater data suggests cases may be starting to rise again.

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce commented on the “milestone” in Ontario’s reopening plan on Tuesday by saying the province must use all tools to promote a sustainable and safe reopening and mitigate future problems.

“Our message to Queen’s Park is simple: focus on immediate measures that support business predictability and growth while building capacity within the economy and health care system to withstand future challenges,” Rocco Rossi, chamber president and CEO wrote in a statement.

Frank Lin, manager of Tea Shop 168 and Tea 18 Sushi in Toronto, said it’s been “very hard” to increase revenue during the pandemic.

With restaurants able to reopen at full capacity and no longer having to check for proof of vaccination as of Tuesday, he said he wasn’t sure if more customers would start rushing back in right away.

“But of course, we hope we can have more customers,” he said.

Premier Doug Ford has said that the vaccine certificate system introduced last year was always intended to be time-limited, and he is only now removing it due to the advice of the chief medical officer of health. He noted Monday, however, that residents should still exercise caution because the pandemic isn’t over.

Venues that still had capacity limits in place, including sports arenas, concert venues, theatres, nightclubs, and restaurants where there is dancing, were able to scrap those restrictions Tuesday.

As well, settings where capacity had been limited to the number of people who could maintain two metres of distance – including weddings and funerals, as well as retail shops, pharmacies and grocery stores – could eliminate that requirement.

A number of businesses, including some restaurants, recreational facilities and museums, said they would maintain their vaccination requirements for now.

The Toronto Zoo said Tuesday it would keep checking people’s proof of vaccination for now because not all animals susceptible to COVID-19 had been vaccinated yet.

At the legislature, where all measures except masks also ended on Tuesday, Health Minister Christine Elliott said she expected that mask mandates in the province would lift “probably within the next few weeks,” depending on advice from the province’s top doctor.

Elected representatives at the legislature are no being grouped into cohorts, and full attendance is allowed at debates, committees and other legislative matters.

The Opposition NDP, meanwhile, said some measures at the legislature should stay in place because elected members should lead by example and not pretend that the pandemic is over.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Tuesday that her party would keep cohorting representatives for the time being, because some members are immunocompromised and concerned about their health.

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