TORONTO — Ontario long-term care residents who have been fully immunized against COVID-19 will be able to go out for day-long and overnight outings starting next week.
The province announced it will be relaxing restrictions starting next Wednesday, given the high level of vaccination in the long-term care sector and improvements in other public health indicators.
As part of the changes, residents with mobility limitations or other health conditions that make outdoor visits impossible will be allowed to have one visitor indoors as well as an essential caregiver.
The government said "brief" hugs will also be permitted regardless of the vaccination status of those involved.
As well, close physical contact such as holding hands will be allowed between fully immunized residents and visitors.
"Thanks to high immunization levels, residents and their families can resume more of the activities that contribute to their quality of life," Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton said in a statement.
The province stressed, however, that everyone should continue to follow public health measures such as hand washing and wearing masks.
Roughly 97 per cent of Ontario's long-term care residents have been fully immunized against COVID-19 as of May 30, the province said. More than 89 per cent of staff have received at least a first dose, and about 66 per cent have received both, it said.
Families and advocates had been calling on the province to ease rules around visits since most residents have been fully vaccinated against the virus.
A commission that examined the spread of COVID-19 in Ontario's long-term care sector issued a report in late April that found the mental health impact of pandemic restrictions on residents was similar to that experienced by prisoners in solitary confinement.
The commission had heard testimony from several residents who described the isolation imposed on them as inhumane.
Shortly after the report's release, the provincial government announced some social interactions, such as communal dining, would be allowed again. It also said fully vaccinated caregivers could hug residents.
Outings for social purposes and temporary absences were still prohibited, however, though residents were allowed to go out for medical or compassionate absences.
Visits from all but official caregivers also remained off-limits.
Officials had said additional guidance would be provided once Ontario's stay-at-home order was lifted. That order expired Wednesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2021.
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press