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Ontario to lift vaccine passport in March, next phase of COVID-19 reopening to begin early

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Ontario will be moving to the next step of its COVID-19 reopening plan on Thursday, four days ahead of schedule, and will lift proof of vaccination requirements at the beginning of March.

Speaking at a news conference Monday morning, Premier Doug Ford said the decisions were made based on recommendations from the province’s chief medical officer of health.

“Given how well Ontario has done in the Omicron wave we are able to fast track our reopening plan,” Ford said in a statement.

“This is great news and a sign of just how far we've come together in our fight against the virus. While we aren’t out of the woods just yet we are moving in the right direction.”

As of Feb. 17, social gathering limits will increase to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. Capacity limits will be lifted at most indoor public settings where proof of vaccination is required. This includes restaurants, meeting and event spaces, gaming establishments and “non-spectator areas” of gyms and cinemas.

Seating capacity at sport and concert venues, as well as movie theatres, will be 50 per cent.

In higher-risk settings such as nightclubs, restaurants with dancing, bathhouses and sex clubs, indoor capacity is 25 per cent. Proof of vaccination is required.

For indoor religious services that require proof of vaccination, capacity limits have been lifted. If proof of vaccination is not required, the facility may have as many people as can fit with physical distancing.

For grocery stores, pharmacies, and retail stores, capacity limits will be capped at “the number of people who can maintain two metres physical distance.”

The province was originally scheduled to move to this phase of reopening on Feb. 21.

Ford also announced on Monday the province's proof-of-vaccination requirements will be lifted on March 1 at all non-essential businesses.

At this time, capacity limits will also be lifted at all indoor establishments.

However, officials said this will only happen "if public health and health system indicators continue to improve."

“We're able to take this step now because of each and every one of you, because of our nurses, our doctors, hospital workers, because of every single person who volunteered in a vaccine clinic and every single person who played a part in this fight,” Ford said. “And let me be very clear, we're moving in this direction because it's safe to do so.”

Vaccine requirements in industries such as long-term care and health care will remain in place for now, the premier added.

Ford stressed that speeding up the reopening schedule was made “despite” the anti-vaccine mandate protests taking place across the province and not because of any political pressure to lift COVID-19 measures.

On Friday, the premier declared a state of emergency to protect Ontario’s borders and issue severe fines to convoy protesters occupying Ottawa and Windsor.

The protests in Ottawa have reached its third week while the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor finally reopened Monday following a week-long demonstration that disrupted traffic and prevented trade.

The protesters have been calling for an end to all COVID-19 measures, including vaccination mandates.

On Monday, the premier said the plan to speed up reopening was “in place long before the protests.”

“We're going to make sure that we get back to normal as quickly as possible. Again, despite the occupations, we're going to continue focusing on making sure that we have a safe environment for companies to do business and trade here in Ontario.”

With about 92 per cent of Ontarians aged 12 and over with at least two doses of COVID-19 vaccine and the number of patients in hospital declining, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore added the province no longer needs proof of vaccination.

“It served its purpose,” Moore said. “I thank all the businesses and communities that have used it, as well as all the citizens and uploading their QR codes and their passports. But in our estimation, given where we are in the epidemic as of March 1, it will no longer be necessary.”

Masking requirements will remain in place, officials said, and businesses may choose to continue to require vaccine certificates if they wish.

The premier also announced Monday that youth between the ages of 12 and 17 will be eligible for their booster doses as of 8 a.m. on Friday.

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