The lifting of some public health restrictions in Ontario is welcome news to thousands of small businesses that have been hit hard over the past two years due to the lingering COVID-19 pandemic.
Effective March 1, Ontario intends to end proof of vaccination requirements for all settings. Businesses and other settings may choose to continue to require proof of vaccination. Masking requirements will remain in place at this time, with a specific timeline to lift this measure to be communicated at a later date, the government announced on Monday.
Dan Kelly, President and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said the organization is pleased with the latest development, which he described as a positive step toward recovery and welcome news to the province’s small businesses.
“Removing business restrictions is a big step, but just the first in a small business recovery plan. Only 33 per cent of the province’s small businesses have returned to normal sales levels. The average Ontario small business has taken on nearly $170,000 in new debt just to survive the past two years, and many are dealing with ongoing challenges related to labour shortages, supply chain disruptions, and rising prices.
We urge the Ontario government to back up today’s announcement with a stay-open plan to provide clarity and certainty as we continue to manage the pandemic. This would include ensuring there is adequate healthcare capacity to avoid any renewed restrictions or business closures in the future,” said Kelly.
“We also call on the Ontario government to make efforts to boost consumer confidence over the weeks ahead. After two years of uncertainty, government messaging needs to shift to encouraging the safe return to activities like dining in restaurants, going to the gym or the movies, attending events, and traveling, so that our small businesses can finally begin the long road to recovery.”
Kelly said the latest CFIB survey data shows that 74 per cent of Ontario’s small businesses believe it’s time for capacity restrictions to be lifted and
66 per cent of Ontario’s small businesses believe it’s time for proof-of-vaccination requirements to be eliminated.
Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, said lifting COVID-19-related business restrictions sooner than initially planned is positive news for Ontario business and economic recovery.
“To ensure a sustainable reopening of Ontario’s economy, it is critical the Government of Ontario also has a comprehensive and clear plan so businesses can safely reopen and stay open,” said Rossi. “The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis have created an unstable and unpredictable environment for Ontario business. Meanwhile, vulnerabilities such as inflation, labour shortages and supply chain disruptions, have been exacerbated by the global state of emergency.
“The impact of all of this on business and consumer confidence is reflected in our Ontario Economic Report with only 29 per cent of businesses being confident in Ontario’s economic outlook for 2022. The plan to reduce restrictions will only be successful if it is accompanied by the necessary measures to support business predictability, build public confidence and sustain the reopening.”
The restaurant industry also welcomed the Ontario government’s announcement.
“Operators are looking forward to fully reopening their restaurants to serve their customers. By announcing a timeline for an end to the vaccine verification requirements, restaurants can begin to make business plans to move into recovery,” said James Rilett, Vice President, Central Canada for Restaurants Canada.
“It is our sincere hope that we will not face future restrictions and the industry can begin on the road to once again be a leader in jobs and economic growth.”
Michelle Wasylyshen, national spokeswoman for the Retail Council of Canada, said Ontario businesses have suffered under the strain of constant disruptions over the last two years.
“The challenges they have had to overcome have included COVID-19, extreme weather events, increasing inflationary pressures, labour shortages and supply chain disruptions,” she said. “As such, we are pleased with the Ontario government’s announcement today regarding the continued easing of restrictions. We are hopeful that the path forward is one of optimism as retailers are simply eager to get back to serving their customers in a way that is free from disruptions.”
Ontario also announced the following effective February 17:
- Increasing social gathering limits to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors;
- Increasing organized public event limits to 50 people indoors, with no limit outdoors;
- Removing capacity limits in the following indoor public settings where proof of vaccination is required, including but not limited to:
- Restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments without dance facilities
- Non-spectator areas of sports and recreational fitness facilities, including gyms
- Meeting and event spaces, including conference centres or convention centres
- Casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments
- Indoor areas of settings that choose to opt-in to proof of vaccination requirements;
- Allowing 50 per cent of the usual seating capacity at sports arenas
- Allowing 50 percent of the usual seating capacity for concert venues and theatres;
- Increasing indoor capacity limits to 25 per cent in the remaining higher-risk settings where proof of vaccination is required, including nightclubs, restaurants where there is dancing, as well as bathhouses and sex clubs; and
- Increasing capacity limits for indoor weddings, funerals or religious services, rites, or ceremonies to the number of people who can maintain two metres physical distance. Capacity limits are removed if the location opts-in to use proof of vaccination or if the service, rite, or ceremony is occurring outdoors.
Capacity limits in other indoor public settings, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, retail and shopping malls, will be maintained at, or increased to, the number of people who can maintain a two-metre physical distance.
“Given how well Ontario has done in the Omicron wave we are able to fast track our reopening plan,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford. “This is great news and a sign of just how far we’ve come together in our fight against the virus. While we aren’t out of the woods just yet we are moving in the right direction.”