Capacity limits return at Ontario restaurants, retailers as Omicron surges

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Published December 17, 2021 at 4:53 pm

TORONTO — Ontario will cap indoor social gatherings at 10 people and reintroduce capacity limits for restaurants, bars and retailers in an effort to slow the spread of the Omicron variant over the winter holidays, Premier Doug Ford said Friday.

The measures, which also include prohibiting food and drink consumption at large venues such as cinemas and sporting arenas, were announced just two days after the province announced a souped-up COVID-19 vaccine booster campaign.

“The experts have been very clear: nothing will stop the spread of Omicron. It’s just too transmissible. What we can do, and what we’re doing, is slowing it as much as possible to allow more time for shots to get into arms,” Ford said.

The restrictions will see restaurant, bar and retail capacity limited to 50 per cent, and outdoor social gatherings can have no more than 25 people — down from a limit of 100.

Indoors, the limit for gatherings was brought down to 10 from 25. 

The new rules come into effect first thing Sunday morning, and don’t apply to facilities hosting weddings, funerals or religious services. 

Ford said reintroducing these restrictions is the best thing the province can do to prevent schools from being closed to in-person learning after the winter holidays — but he noted it’s still too soon to say whether it will be safe for schools to reopen, given the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. 

He also left the door open to tightening restrictions further, saying that the situation was “moving rapidly” and the province was closely monitoring it every day.

Ford said he knew the new rules would be hard, but that they’re necessary to get past this particularly difficult stage in the pandemic. 

“Friends, I know you’re all tired,” Ford said. “Over the last 20 months, you’ve been asked to sacrifice so much. We’ve all dug so deep. And now we need to dig a little deeper. We’ll get through this.”

The announcement comes after the province’s science advisers said a ramped-up booster campaign wouldn’t be enough to blunt the effects of the new COVID-19 variant.

The expert panel said the province should put “circuit breaker” measures in place to reduce contacts by 50 per cent and warned that without action, daily cases could rise above 10,000 by Christmas. 

Omicron is thought to be four to eight times more transmissible than the Delta variant that fuelled the fourth wave of the pandemic.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 17, 2021.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

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