TORONTO -- The City of Toronto will be reopening all of its office buildings at maximum capacity in January and asking its employees to return to the office at least part-time, despite the emergency of a new COVID-19 variant of concern in the province.

Mayor John Tory announced on Tuesday that city-owned office buildings will reopen to all employees on Jan. 4, 2022, while still complying to public health restrictions.

“Every City of Toronto office building will be open to the maximum occupancy possible under the rules and that will increase automatically as the pandemic recedes and as physical distancing requirements in workplaces are modified by the provincial government,” he said at a COVID-19 briefing from city hall.

Tory added that any city employees who are currently working from home will be allowed to come back into the office on a hybrid working model.

The city anticipates that most staff members will work three days a week in the office and the remainder of the week at home.

Around 75 per cent of Toronto employees who don’t have a work from home option have been coming to work throughout the pandemic, and 25 per cent have been able to work from home.

Tory said he hopes that the move will motivate other employers to reopen their workplaces.

“I believe this is an important signal to other workplaces in both the private and public sectors that we can safely return and reinvigorate the economy and the downtown core process and do so safely,” Tory said.

All city workers who come into the office must be fully vaccinated, as outlined in the city’s vaccination policy.

Earlier this month, the city said that 98 per cent of city employees received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 94 per cent had received two doses and are considered fully vaccinated.

Those who did not submit their vaccination status were subject to a six-week unpaid suspension and will be terminated if they choose not to get fully vaccinated starting on Dec. 13.

In addition to office buildings, City Hall, Metro Hall and civic centres will be reopening to the public on Jan. 4, 2022.

“This will mean the public will be able to access the main floor rotunda, washrooms, library and counter services on the first floor, and attend scheduled meetings with me, with counselors and with our team members,” Tory said.

The digital counter services that rolled out throughout the pandemic will remain available, Tory said.

Tory also said that council meetings will return to in-person sessions in January, with an option for members to participate virtually if they choose to.

“If and when physical distancing measures are further lifted in the new year we will welcome the public back to in-person council and committee meetings,” Tory said.

Tory’s announcement comes after the World Health Organization recently designated a new COVID-19 variant of concern, Omicron, that was discovered in southern Africa.

In response to the variant of concern, Canada along with other countries implemented travel restrictions last week on flights from seven countries in southern Africa.

Health officials have raised concerns about the variant due to its higher number of genetic mutations and possible rapid spread.

As of Monday, Ontario confirmed a total of four cases of the Omicron variant found in Ottawa.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, said the city will monitor the situation between now and January and make changes to the reopening plan for office buildings if necessary.

“We are in constant communication, we are regularly monitoring the situation… should the circumstances change, I know that we will be discussing that and taking appropriate course of action in concert with the data we have on the ground and the best available science,” she said at the briefing.