TORONTO -- Ontario has announced major changes to how it will impose COVID-19 shutdowns, introducing a new tiered system for when to impose lockdowns and closures.

Under the framework released on Nov. 3, and then adjusted on Nov. 13, each of Ontario's 34 public health units are placed in one of five categories based off their current COVID-19 trends.

The system will act as a dimmer switch, allowing regions to gradually increase or decrease restrictions as needed.

The five categories are prevent, protect, restrict, control, and lockdown.

Each of the stages comes with a set of criteria, giving local health units and business owners some level of predictability when it comes to pandemic related restrictions.

In all scenarios, except a full lockdown, indoor dining and gyms can reopen with modified guidelines in place unless a local medical officer of health orders otherwise. 

Under the proposed plan, schools and daycares will remain open.

Ontario's gathering limits remain at 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors for private events, while organized events can have 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors, unless the region moves to the control phase.

Doug Ford

Here is a closer look at the five categories:

Prevent (Green)

In this category, the region must focus on education and awareness about public health safety measures. Restrictions reflect those of Stage 3, until there is a widely available vaccine or treatment. Highest risk settings remain closed.

To be assigned this status, the health unit must have a weekly incidence rate of fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 people. The test positivity rate must be under below one 0.5 per cent.

Protect (Yellow)

In this category, the region will enhance targeted enforcement, fines and education to limit further transmission.

Additional public health measures are required in high-risk settings, such as restaurants, gyms and movie theatres.

Regions placed in the protect category will have a weekly incidence rate between 10 and 24.9 cases per 100,000 people. The test positivity rate must be between 0.5 and 1.2 per cent.

Restrict (Orange)

When a region moves to this level, enhanced measure and restrictions are applied to slow the spread.

The weekly incidence rate in these regions must be between 25 and 39.9 cases per 100,000 people. The test positivity rate must be between 1.3 and 2.4 per cent.

At this level, hospital and ICU occupancy are increasing.

Control (Red)

In the control phase, regions will implement broader-scale measures and restrictions across multiple sectors. This phase will be similar to a modified Stage 2.

The restrictions in this phase are the most severe before moving to a lockdown.

The weekly incident rate is more than 40 cases per 100,000 people. The positivity rate must increase above 2.5 per cent.

In this stage, hospital and ICU capacity are at risk of being overwhelmed.

Lockdown (Maximum measures)

If trends continue to worsen after measures from the control level are implemented, the region will move to a full lockdown. This means closing all non-essential businesses and reverting to Stage 1 or pre-Stage 1.

New restrictions for bars and restaurants 

Indoor dining will be allowed to resume at all restaurants and bars in Ontario when the government implements this new plan.

For regions in the prevent category, indoor dining continues similar to how it currently operates in Stage 3 regions. Patrons are required to be seated, with a minimum of two metres between tables.

Regions in the protect category must close establishments by midnight and only serve liquor between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. No liquor can be consumed after 12 a.m. A maximum of six people can be seated at a table, contact tracing is mandatory and music can’t be louder than the volume of a normal conversation. 


For regions in the restrict category, venues will have a 50-person capacity for indoor dining. Establishments must close by 10 p.m. and no liquor can be sold between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. There can be no consumption of liquor after 10 p.m. There is a limit of four people per table. 

Strip clubs must remain closed in the restrict category but can open in protect and prevent. 

If a region moves to the control phase, indoor dining may remain open but a 10-person indoor capacity limit will apply.

Measures for sports and recreational fitness

Under the new plan, gyms and fitness facilities can reopen in all of Ontario. 

In the prevent phase, restrictions remain similar to those imposed under current Stage 3 guidelines. There is a maximum of 50 people for indoor fitness classes and 100 people for outdoor classes.

In all levels of the plan, team sports must be modified to avoid physical contact. There are exemptions for high-performance athletes and there can only be 50 people per league. 

In the prevent phase, sporting games can have 50 spectators indoors and 100 outdoors.

In the protect category, face covering are required at all times in fitness facilities, except when exercising. Facilities must ensure there is three metres of space between patrons who are exercising. 

Recreational programs are limited to 10 people per room indoors and 25 outdoors in the protect phase. Contact tracing information is required for all patrons, including attendance for team sports. Gyms and fitness facilities will require appointments for entry in this phase.


In the restrict phase, there can only be a maximum of 50 people per facility in all combined recreational fitness spaces or programs. This does not include pools, rinks at arenas, community centres and multi-purpose facilities. Patrons must complete a health questionnaire and limit their stay to 60 minutes, except for sports. 


There are no major changes to retail services for regions in the prevent and protect levels. 

For regions in the restrict phase, malls will be required to screen patrons at entrances for COVID-19 symptoms.

If a region moves to the control phase, indoor dining must be closed at food courts. 

Retail would only close if the region was forced to lockdown. 

Personal care services 

There are no major changes to how the personal care services industry operates under the new plan.

Oxygen bars, steam rooms, saunas and whirlpools must remain closed in all phases.

In the protect phase, patrons are required to provide contact information when arriving for an appointment.

In the restrict phase, services requiring the removal of face coverings are prohibited. Change rooms and showers must also stay closed. Bath houses, other adult venues, hot tubs, floating pods and sensory deprivation pods must stay closed, with some exceptions. Businesses must also screen also patrons. 

In the control phase, services requiring the removal of face coverings are banned. 

Barber shop

Casinos, bingo halls and gaming establishments 

These businesses can reopen under all levels, except lockdown, with varying restrictions in place. 

In the prevent phase, capacity can’t exceed 50 and table games are prohibited. 

In the protect phase and restrict levels, liquor restrictions mirror those of indoor dining mentioned above. 

In the control level, these venues can only have 10 people per facility indoors and 25 people outdoors. 


Indoor movie theatres can reopen in all levels of the plan, except for the control phase. 

In the prevent phase, movie theatres can have 50 people per auditorium and face coverings are required, except when eating or drinking. 

In the protect level, movie theatres can operate in the same way in the level before with indoor dining liquor rules in place. 

In the restrict phase, movie theatres can only have 50 people in the entire facility. Indoor liquor rules for this level are also in place. 

In the control phase, movie theatres must close but drive-in cinemas can remain open. 

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