Ontario is re-introducing capacity limits for movies, concerts and sports. In a press conference this afternoon, Doug Ford announced that starting Saturday, December 18 at 12:01 am, any indoor venue with a capacity over 1,000 people will be reduced to 50 per cent capacity. That includes concert venues, sports stadiums and arenas as well as very large movie theatres and casinos.
Other than continued restrictions on nightclubs, strip clubs and bathhouses, Ontario had lifted limits on public events with mandatory vaccination requirements and allowed them to run at 100 per cent capacity. That included professional sports, whose leagues are currently dealing with their own COVID spreads. A Toronto Raptors game scheduled for this Thursday against the Chicago Bulls has been postpone. The Bulls have too many many players in health and safety protocols due to exposures to roll out a full team.
The goverment is stepping in before the holidays with COVID numbers increasing as the new Omicron variant spreads rapidly across the country, especially among the unvaccinated.
More rapid tests and more boosters
Ford also announced an increase in availability of rapid tests, which until now have only been given free to businesses and administered for $30-$40 at Rexall and Shopper’s Drug Mart.
Reportedly, the province will offer them free at 660 LCBO outlets starting in the coming days – long before the new year, as was initially announced. Ford says the province’s public health units have also begun a holiday testing “blitz” handing out rapid tests in “high-traffic areas” like malls, Christmas markets and on city streets.
Ontario has also moved up its rollout of booster shots. Originally not expected until January 4, anyone over 18 can now book a third vaccine dose starting Monday (December 20). The interval between second and third dose has been shortened from 168 days (six months) to 84 (three months). Starting today, anyone 50 or over who has booked their third dose in that six-month interval can re-book for three months.
An advisory against non-essential travel
The federal government is also reacting to the new Omicron threat. Just 10 days before Christmas, Canada is advising against all non-essential travel anywhere outside of the country. The advisory had been in place until October, when it was quietly lifted, but is now being re-imposed before the holiday travel rush.
“To those who were planning to travel, I say very clearly: now is not the time to travel,” said Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos today.
In addition to the warning, which should affect many Canadians with plans to vacation or see family over the holidays, Duclose also said airports will be ramping up its enforcement of testing for all arriving travellers, which until now have been given randomly to some people arriving at the border. Duclos says they have the capacity to process up to 17,000 arrival tests a day.
Ontario reported 1,808 new COVID cases today, the highest new daily case count since May.