Ontario will allow outdoor dining in grey-lockdown zones, modifying some of its COVID-19 restrictions.
Restaurants in the red and orange zones of the province's colour-coded guidelines will have their indoor dining capacity increased to 50 per cent — up to a maximum of 50 or 100 people, respectively.
In a news release Friday afternoon, the province said the changes would be effective Saturday, March 20, at 12:01 a.m.
Only those from the same household can sit at a table together, indoors or outdoors, with the exception of those who live alone or caregivers.
People who live alone can sit with one other household, as can those who are acting as caregivers to someone outside their own household, Ontario's Ministry of Health said.
Toronto and Peel Region both remain in the grey-lockdown zone, the strictest level of the province's colour-coded COVID-19 framework, because of an increase in cases and increasing test-positivity rates in the last week.
Risk reduced outdoors
The risk of infection outdoors is greatly reduced, said Dr. Peter Jüni of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.
"Outdoors is so much safer. It's not about risk elimination; it's about risk reduction," Jüni told CBC News.
The president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses criticized the move to limit dining to outdoor only in grey-lockdown zones.
"Toronto restaurants have been fully closed to indoor dining for 160 straight days (289 since the pandemic started). Their big win is to be allowed to serve a few people outside — IN MARCH — if they happen to have a pre-approved patio," Dan Kelly wrote on Twitter shortly after the announcement was made.
Modified grey zone instead of red
On Wednesday, Toronto's most senior health official said she would not ask the province to move the city to the red zone.
Instead, Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto's chief medical officer of health, said she would ask to slightly modify the provincial grey-lockdown rules to allow for some activities outdoors, such as dining, fitness and hair cutting services.
At the time, de Villa said there would be a collaborative discussion with the province about potential changes.
City officials confirmed the CaféTO program won't be up and running until early May.
The program helped hundreds of restaurants and bars in the city add patio space or expand existing patios into curb lanes and along sidewalks to ensure physical distancing and accommodate more patrons.
Restaurants with existing patio space and permits are now set to open sooner.
Toronto has been in a lockdown since Nov. 23, and with the weather getting warmer, one doctor said easing up on some restrictions would bring relief to residents in the city.
"With the weather getting better, creating spaces for them to see people, to get personal interaction, to feel like they at least have a little bit of control over the situation and normalcy, is probably appropriate," Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician for St. Joseph's Healthcare in Hamilton, told CBC News.
8 regions move into new zones Monday
On Monday at 12:01 a.m., eight public health units in Ontario will be moving to new levels of the province's colour-coded COVID-19 framework.
Brant County Health Unit
Chatham-Kent Public Health
Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit
Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health
Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health
North Bay Parry Sound District
Porcupine Health Unit
Timiskaming Health Unit