By Ismail Shakil
(Reuters) - Canada's most populous province, Ontario, said on Wednesday that residents can come out of isolation with a mask as soon as 24 hours after their COVID-19 symptoms dissipate, under a strategy to homogenize guidance for all respiratory illnesses.
Asymptomatic COVID-positive residents, as well as those who come in contact with an infected person, can go to work or school but they must wear a face mask for 10 days, the Ontario government said.
The province previously asked the public to isolate for five days from the onset of COVID symptoms.
The relaxation in guidance is possible thanks to "hybrid immunity" from vaccination and exposure to different coronavirus strains as well treatments like Paxlovid, Ontario's chief medical officer, Kieran Moore, said at a briefing.
While going out in public with a mask would be allowed, infected residents must not visit high-risk settings such as hospitals and long-term care facilities, Moore said.
COVID infections from the BA.5 Omicron subvariant had plateaued in Ontario, Moore said, but cautioned that other viruses would also soon be circulating in a seasonal rise of respiratory diseases.
"We need to have an approach that will decrease the transmission of RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus), influenza and COVID," Moore said at a briefing.
"This combination of strategies should be a more pragmatic and practical approach to return to the school with as least disruption that we can have in the school and work environment," Moore said.
Ontario is urging residents to get all recommended vaccine doses, including the flu shot and COVID booster shots.
The Ontario government also announced on Wednesday that it would start offering a COVID booster dose to children aged 5 to 11 beginning Sept. 1.
"Staying up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters is still the best tool to keep people healthy and out of hospitals, and to ensure Ontario's economy stays open," Ontario's Health Minister Sylvia Jones said in a statement.
(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; editing by Jonathan Oatis)