Ontario to lift all COVID restrictions by March 1 – now will convoy protestors go home?


The province of Ontario has announced a lifting of COVID-19 restrictions that was expected to take place later in March, but has now been fast-tracked to begin later this week.

Effective February 17, capacity limits at bars, restaurants, gyms and movie theatres as well as other indoor venues will be lifted. The province plans to lift all remaining restrictions including vaccine passport requirements by March 1, although businesses can choose to opt out of the latter. Masking requirements, however, will remain in place for now.

Premier Doug Ford made the announcement alongside health minister Christine Elliott and Ontario’s chief medical officer of health Kieran Moore at a press conference on Monday morning.

Ontario is also expanding booster dose eligibility to people aged 12 to 17 as of February 18. But that was largely lost in the announcement.

As was the fact that Ontario has high vaccination rates and more people getting their first dose to thank for the declining number of hospitalizations and admissions to ICUs, which hit record levels in January following the emergence of the Omicron variant of the virus. 

“Thanks to the province’s high vaccination rates and the continued sacrifices of Ontarians, we are now in a position where we can move forward in our plan earlier than anticipated,” Elliott said.

Indeed, since Ontario entered a modified step 2 reopening in January to “blunt” the rapid spread of the Omicron wave that was overwhelming hospitals, more than 202,000 Ontarians have received a first dose of the vaccine and more than 2.5 million Ontarians have received their booster.

Whether the news of the lifting of restrictions will convince protestors in Ottawa to end their three-week siege of the city, which ostensibly began over mandatory vaccines for truckers and morphed into a call for all restrictions to be lifted, seems doubtful. It’s too late for that. The situation has unravelled into an issue of national security. 

The protests-turned-occupation of the nation’s capital was never about COVID restrictions to begin with. That was just a front, and has been taken over by something more ominous – the grievances of anti-government types (with ties to armed militias) who are using opposition to mandates to call for the resignation of Trudeau and have been threatening violence and the overthrow of the government. That’s clearer now.

On that front, there were a number of disturbing developments over the weekend, including more police coming out of the woodwork to publicly declare their support for the protestors as well as revelations in the Ottawa Citizen that two members of the Canadian Armed Forces’ Joint Task Force 2 anti-terrorism unit are being investigated for their links to the protests. 

Meanwhile, a transport truck with some 2,000 firearms was stolen from a lot in Peterborough over the weekend triggering speculation of a possible link to the protestors in Ottawa. Peterborough police say they are “leaning toward an isolated crime of opportunity” but also working with the OPP, RCMP, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Canada Border Services Agency and other municipal police forces to track down the truck.

News filtering out of the nation’s capital on Monday, meanwhile, is that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is now preparing to invoke the Emergencies Act to deal with the protests in the city that have spread to blockades of border crossings in Coutts, Alberta, and in Manitoba as well as for a time in BC over the weekend. There are reportedly no plans to call in the military at this point. But the RCMP has announced the arrest of 11 people along with the seizure of 13 long guns and other firearms among “a small organized group” of supporters of the Coutts crossing blockade.

A week-long blockade of the Ambassador Bridge by protestors was cleared over the weekend, but here too it looked like police were reluctant to move on protestors, as they have been in Ottawa.

After corralling and slowly pushing protestors back from the bridge on Saturday, police seemed to halt their operations. More protestors arrived to “hold the line.” And it wasn’t until Sunday morning that police actually began arresting the hangers-on, despite the fact there were only a handful of pickups blocking access to the bridge.

Ford denied that the lifting of restrictions earlier than expected had anything to with the so-called “Freedom Convoy” protests. 

It’s difficult not to draw that conclusion considering the fact that some restrictions were set to lift next week anyway – and it was only Friday that Ford read the riot act to protestors in declaring a state of emergency to deal with the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge. 

At the same time, public opinion polls have been moving in favour of lifting restrictions even before protests began. Quebec, Saskatchewan and Alberta have announced their own plans to lift restrictions amid growing public frustration with COVID-19 mandates.

Whether the lifting of restrictions will unleash another wave of the virus only time will tell – and it doesn’t seem to be the political priority at the moment now that protests have been allowed to get out of hand.

Indeed, Moore cautioned during Monday’s press conference that “it is important to stay vigilant.” No doubt. The proof of vaccine requirement and lifting of capacity at most indoor establishments will only proceed on March 1, Moore said, “if public health and health system indicators continue to improve.”

“We must continue to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in our communities by following the measures in place and by vaccinating those who have not yet received their doses.” Tell it to the protestors in Ottawa. 




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