“Promising” signs prompt easing COVID-19 rules

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    Highlands restaurants, gyms and bars have been cleared to re-open at 50 per cent capacity on Jan 31. 

    “The evidence tells us that the measures we put in place to blunt transmission of Omicron are working,” said Premier Doug Ford in a Dec. 20 press release. “We can be confident that the worst is behind us and that we are now in a position to cautiously and gradually ease public health measures.”

    Along with easing business restrictions, indoor gathering limits will raise to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors. The Minden arena and other sporting or performance venues will be able to run at 50 per cent capacity. 

    On Feb. 21, capacity limits in restaurants and bars will be lifted completely, as well as most indoor public settings where proof of vaccination is required. 

    In March, all indoor public spaces won’t have capacity limits, and private indoor gatherings will be capped at 50 people, with no capacity limit outdoors. 

    Find a full list of updated rules at the bottom of this article.

    Local signs of hope 

    HKPR Chief medical officer of health Dr. Natalie Bocking said she sees “promising indicators” the region’s COVID-19 infection rate is close to plateauing.

    The region’s test positivity rate, at about 13.3 per cent, is down from a peak of 21 per cent seen in early Jan. 

    While PCR COVID-19 testing is limited to high-risk people or those who work in high-risk settings, Bocking said the infection number and positivity rate can still indicate a falling caseload. 

    On Jan. 19, the health unit reported an incident rate of 254 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people, down from over 400 on Jan. 4.

    “We could see a peak at the end of the month, or fingers crossed, potentially a bit sooner than the end of the month,” said Bocking at a Jan. 19 media information session. “We do have reason to have some optimism and looking forward to coming out on the other side of this wave.”

    Haliburton has recorded 315 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, with 10 cases currently unresolved. 

    Dr. Bocking said that while the unit is recording more hospitalizations due to COVID-19 than ever — 22 patients on Jan. 20 — the Omicron variant is often less dangerous than previous waves of COVID-19. 

    “We are not seeing the same level of illness in the first wave,” she said. 

    Roadmap to reopening 

    The following rules will come into place Jan. 31 at 12:01 a.m. 

    • Increasing social gathering limits to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.
    • Increasing or maintaining capacity limits at 50 per cent in indoor public settings, including but not limited to:
    • Restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments without dance facilities;
    • Retailers (including grocery stores and pharmacies)
    • Shopping malls;
    • Non-spectator areas of sports and recreational fitness facilities, including gyms;
    • Cinemas;
    • Meeting and event spaces;
    • Recreational amenities and amusement parks, including water parks;
    • Museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos and similar attractions; and
    • Casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments
    • Religious services, rites, or ceremonies.
    • Allowing spectator areas of facilities such as sporting events, concert venues and theatres to operate at 50 per cent seated capacity or 500 people, whichever is less.

    On Feb. 21, the following rules will be in place: 

    • Increasing social gathering limits to 25 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.
    • Removing capacity limits in indoor public settings where proof of vaccination is required, including but not limited to restaurants, indoor sports and recreational facilities, cinemas, as well as other settings that choose to opt-in to proof of vaccination requirements.
    • Permitting spectator capacity at sporting events, concert venues, and theatres at 50 per cent capacity.
    • Limiting capacity in most remaining indoor public settings where proof of vaccination is not required to the number of people that can maintain two metres of physical distance.
    • Indoor religious services, rites or ceremonies limited to the number that can maintain two metres of physical distance, with no limit if proof of vaccination is required.
    • Increasing indoor capacity limits to 25 per cent in the remaining higher-risk settings where proof of vaccination is required, including nightclubs, wedding receptions in meeting or event spaces where there is dancing, as well as bathhouses and sex clubs.

    On March 14: 

    • Lifting capacity limits in all indoor public settings. Proof of vaccination will be maintained in existing settings in addition to other regular measures.
    • Lifting remaining capacity limits on religious services, rites, or ceremonies.
    • Increase social gathering limits to 50 people indoors with no limits for outdoor gatherings.