Just in time for the hockey and basketball seasons, Ontario is lifting COVID-19 capacity limits in some places where proof of vaccination is required — such as movie theatres, concert halls and the Scotiabank Arena — but not in restaurants and gyms.
The changes effective 12:01 a.m. Saturday will allow 100 per cent capacity in the designated venues, but leave the restaurant and fitness industries disappointed and in limbo.
“This means gyms, and dance studios, yoga studios and bowling alleys will still be at 50 per cent. Meanwhile the Leafs will have full capacity for their home opener,” said Ryan Mallough of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
In an announcement late Friday afternoon, the Ministry of Health said full capacity will be allowed in theatres, horse and car-racing tracks, commercial film and TV productions with studio audiences, and spectator areas of sports and recreation facilities.
“We are overjoyed to see this day arrive when we are able to welcome a full venue to cheer on the Maple Leafs and Raptors,” said Michael Friisdahl, chief executive of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
Meeting and event spaces are also included in the easing of restrictions, but indoor capacity will be limited to the number of patrons that can maintain physical distancing.
Government officials said there have been “a limited number of outbreaks” in the settings going to full capacity.
The policy change came amid continued pressure from the restaurant and fitness industries to ease 50 per cent capacity limits on them, with the fourth wave of the pandemic under control for now.
But chief medical officer Dr. Kieran Moore said it’s too soon to do so, even though key pandemic indicators such as new case numbers and hospitalizations are stable or improving.
“Now is not the time to let our guard down,” he added, pledging to continue reviewing data on those sectors.
An organization representing thousands of restaurants said it would love to see that data.
“They refuse to show us any,” Restaurants Canada vice-president James Rilett told the Star, urging the province to boost financial support for struggling restaurant owners.
“We were the first ones hit. We continue to be the ones with restrictions left on. It’s hard not to take it personally. It seems like our industry is continually being singled out,” he added.
“Since the vaccine passports have been brought in, we have members reporting anywhere from 15 to 25 per cent lower revenue. They just have fewer people coming out.”
Ontario’s vaccine passport system for non-essential businesses and venues took effect Sept. 22. Patrons must show proof they are at least two weeks past their second COVID-19 vaccination.
For the venues with no more capacity limits, the government said public health and workplace safety measures such as face masks, screening and collection of information for contact tracing can continue but physical distancing requirements are being removed, with limited exceptions.
Proof of vaccination will continue in outdoor settings such as sports stadiums, where the maximum capacity is often 20,000 or more.
Capacity limits were last eased Sept. 24.
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