Province moves back to step two of reopening, closes schools

    Close-up medical syringe with a vaccine.

    Ontario has added new COVID-19 restrictions in the face of rapidly rising case counts. 

    During a Jan. 3 press conference, Premier Doug Ford said medical advisors predict the highly transmissible Omicron variant could overwhelm hospitals, with some expecting more than 100,000 cases a day. 

    That could potentially mean more than 1,000 new hospital admissions per day. 

    While some studies show the variant is less severe, the sheer number of infections could still mean hospitals could be “thousands of beds short in the coming weeks,” Ford said. 

    “We need to slow [COVID-19] down in order to deliver shots,” Ford said. 

    Starting Jan. 5, here’s what will change: 

    • All restaurants will move to take-out only. 
    • All publicly-funded and private schools will move to remote learning starting Jan. 5 until at least Jan. 17.
    • Workplaces with employees able to operate remotely must do so. 
    • All retail establishments (including malls) will run at 50 per cent capacity. 
    • Organized public events and private gatherings are limited to five people indoors and 10 people outdoors. 
    • All indoor sports facilities and gyms must temporarily close, including the Minden Arena.
    • Ontario hospitals will pause all non-emergent and non-urgent surgeries and procedures. 
    • Museums, such as the Minden Hills Cultural Centre and Haliburton County Museum, will close. 
    • Restricting alcohol sales after 10 p.m. and alcohol consumption at a business after 11 p.m. 
    • Public libraries will be limited to 50 per cent capacity.
    • Personal care services are to be limited to 50 per cent capacity. 

    The rules will be in place until at least Jan. 17. 

    SUB: Business supports 

    In a press release, the Ontario government announced an expansion of the new Ontario Business Costs Rebate Program. 

    Some businesses required to close or limit capacity can apply for rebates on energy and property tax bills. 

    “Eligible businesses required to reduce capacity to 50 per cent, such as smaller retail stores, will receive a rebate payment equivalent to 50 per cent of their costs, while businesses required to close for indoor activities, such as restaurants and gyms, will receive a rebate payment equivalent to 100 per cent of their costs,” states the press release. 

    Applications for the program are slated to open later in January.