Ontario reviewing all COVID-19 measures, including masks and vaccine passports

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health speaks at a press conference at Queen’s Park regarding the easing of restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Jan. 20, 2022.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

All of Ontario’s COVID-19 measures – including restrictions on businesses, masking rules and its vaccine certificate policy – are under review, the province’s top doctor said Thursday.

Dr. Kieran Moore told a news conference that a massive wave of Omicron variant cases has passed its peak. Based on that trend, he said it’s time to focus on resuming other activities in the health system and society at large.

“I think a review of all timelines is absolutely appropriate in the face of the improving data in Ontario, in removal of all public-health measures,” Dr. Moore said.

“We want to be transparent to businesses, transparent to Ontarians, on what can be expected in terms of the timelines.”

While stressing that the government has not made a final decision, Dr. Moore said he would be reviewing all public measures and making recommendations to government about them as early as next week.

Omicron variant cases spiked in December and January, overwhelming health resources to the point that the province restricted access to tests, scaled back contact tracing efforts and slapped restrictions on businesses, social gatherings, schools and other settings.

Some restrictions started lifting weeks ago, and now that hospitalizations, intensive-care admissions and other virus indicators are improving, the province said Thursday it was lifting a directive that paused all surgeries deemed non-urgent.

Dr. Moore said those procedures will resume gradually over the coming weeks and months, taking local situations into consideration as the health system remains more strained in some regions.

Restrictions on businesses and social gatherings are set to further roll back in stages on Feb. 21 and March. 14, but Dr. Moore said those dates could be reviewed next week.

Also under review are the timelines for ending all public-health measures including mask rules and proof-of-vaccination requirements.

Ontario had planned to scrap all COVID-19 measures including the vaccine passport system and mask requirements by the end of March. But the plan was paused when Omicron cases surged and there are currently no set dates to end those measures.

Dr. Moore noted that masks may be required in schools longer than “at a societal level,” and said they may be maintained in some public settings such as transit until the province has “very low endemicity,” with case averages lower than 10 per 100,000 people.

His comments came a day after Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province wasn’t immediately planning to lift mask rules or vaccine passport system, as Alberta and Saskatchewan have begun to do.

Those policy changes in other provinces are unfolding as lengthy protests against vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 policies continue to rock Canada’s capital city and major border crossings, disrupting the flow of trade, transportation and residents’ daily lives.

Dr. Moore said Thursday that any recommendations to lift restrictions sooner would be made based on trends in Ontario’s COVID-19 data and denied that the protests would have any influence.

“Without any external pressure, because I don’t really watch the news too much, we are absolutely committed to removing public-health measures in a timely, evidence-based, science-driven manner,” he said.

Also on Thursday, the province announced that extracurriculars including high-contact sports such as basketball and volleyball as well as choir could resume in schools after a temporary pause during the Omicron wave.

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