Mississauga, Brampton, Hamilton and Ontario restaurants could have indoor dining on Jan. 31

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Published January 19, 2022 at 7:05 pm

Ontario Premier Doug Ford

Word began trickling out Wednesday night that the province will allow restaurants to reopen at 50 per cent capacity on Jan. 31, in the first step of a graduated easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

LATEST UPDATE: Gyms, restaurants, theatres and retailers opening on Jan. 31


Multiple reports from Toronto media outlets said the Ontario PC Party government and Premier Doug Ford — whose approval rating has fallen to its lowest in his tenure — will make an announcement on Thursday (Jan. 20) at Queen’s Park in Toronto. The re-opening of indoor dining, at 50 per cent, would be the first of several restrictions that would be loosened throughout February, according to reports.

Amid the fifth wave of the pandemic, Ontario entered a ‘modified Step 2’ two weeks ago (Jan. 5), closing indoor dining, bars and other food establishments, along with gyms. Capacity limits were placed on retail settings, shopping malls and personal care businesses.

In-person learning in schools resumed this week, but are no longer required to track COVID-19 cases, which has perturbed many parents and educators.

The reports about Ford’s announcement came hours after Health Minister Christine Elliott and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said there was no timeline about a reopening. But Elliott offered that there would be “clarity later this week,” and Moore has said he said he trusts that the reopening would be “staged and phased.”

The timing of a possible Ford announcement also comes while Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and major union leaders are planning to make an emergency appeal for government action on the “Omicron crisis.” An NDP press release said Horwath will hold a virtual press conference at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday alongside Ontario Federation of Labour president Patty Coates, Ontario Nurses’ Association regional VP DJ Sanderson, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario president Karen Brown, and CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn.

The fifth wave of COVID-19 has been fuelled by the Omicron variant that is certainly more virulent, but possibly less vicious on average than its predecessors. There is no indication yet that it has plateaued or peaked in Ontario, based on hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths. One-quarter of all hospitalizations of children due to COVID-19 in Ontario have occurred in the last month and a half.

In Hamilton, for instance, the city’s hospital networks have 126 patients with COVID-19 and 22 who are in intensive care units. That, along with hundreds of health-care professionals who are sick or self-isolating, has stretched the hospitals’ ability to deliver care.

Hospital networks in Brampton, Hamilton and the Niagara Region have also had to shut down urgent care centres due to staff shortages.

Two weeks ago, Horwath, Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, and Green party Leader Mike Schreiner jointly called on the premier to recall the Ontario legislature to discuss staffing shortages in the health-care sector. They also reiterated a call to repeal Bill 124, which caps pay increases for nurses at 1 per cent per year. (Canada’s current inflation rate is 4.8 per cent, which is its highest in 30 years. That is below the average of G20 nations.)

Last week, St. Catharines NDP MPP Jennie Stevens called for Bill 124 to repealed due to what she called a “Health Human Resources crisis.” Brampton North MPP Kevin Yarde also made a similar appeal to the premier.

On Monday, the non-profit Angus Reid Institute said only 30 per cent of Ontarians surveyed approve of Ford. And two-thirds, 67 per cent, say he has handled the pandemic poorly.

Only Alberta’s Jason Kenney (26 per cent) and Manitoba’s Heather Stefanson (21) had lower approval ratings than Ford, the pollster said.

Three-quarters of residents say the province has done a poor job in distributing tests where they are needed. That was the highest number in Canada.

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