Outdoor dining will be allowed for regions in the grey-lockdown level of Ontario’s colour-coded framework starting on Saturday, the government announced.
The province confirmed the news after Premier Doug Ford met with his cabinet to amend the rules for areas currently operating under lockdown Friday afternoon.
This means that as of March 20 at 12:01 a.m., bars and restaurants in Toronto, Peel Region, Thunder Bay District Health Unit, Public Health Sudbury and Districts, and Lambton Public Health will be able to host patrons outdoors for dining, so long as tables are limited to members of the same household.
Exemptions will be made for those who live alone and caregivers who are looking to dine with others outdoors.
It’s unclear how the province will enforce its requirement that outdoor diners in lockdown regions must live in the same household.
Indoor dining remains prohibited in those areas.
The province also announced changes to indoor dining for regions in the orange-restrict and red-control levels.
In those areas, establishments will be allowed to host up to “approximately 50 per cent” of their indoor dining area, subject to physical distancing rules, the province said.
Total occupancy cannot exceed 50 patrons in the red zone and 100 patrons in the orange zone. Like the grey zone, tables will also be limited to members of the same household, with exceptions for caregivers and those who live alone.
All businesses operating in the grey, red, and orange levels will also be required to post signs which state their maximum capacity in a visible location.
Earlier in the week, Toronto Mayor John Tory and the city’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa voiced support for amending the rules in the grey-lockdown zones to allow for outdoor dining.
Peel Region’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh echoed that recommendation.
However, de Villa added that the “data does not support” moving the city into the less restrictive red zone, based on the current spread of COVID-19.
On Friday, the province said that Toronto recorded 478 new cases of COVID-19 while Peel Region logged 344.
And while a return to outdoor dining is likely welcome news to many restaurant owners across the province, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams urged caution in a statement released Friday
"We have entered the third wave of the pandemic and the rates of variants of concern continue to rise so it is important that people remain cautious and vigilant in order to minimize the transmission of COVID-19 and protect themselves and their communities."
Speaking to CTV news Toronto on Wednesday, the head of Ontario’s COVID-19 scientific advisory table said that a three-week lockdown in certain regions of the province would be necessary to blunt the explosive growth of the variants of concern.
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist who sits on the province’s 10-member vaccine distribution task force, says he believes opening patios is reasonably safe.
“I think you are not going to find anywhere on planet earth… that is 100 per cent risk-free. And I think the attitude is how do we do things safely rather than cancel everything,” he said.
“Nothing is a zero per cent chance of transmission but we know for example that outdoor activities are way, way, way safer than indoor activities and I think what they are thinking about is how can we conduct some of these activities or get some businesses operational by really harnessing our knowledge of how this virus is transmitted.”