Ontarians return to gyms, restaurant dining rooms as further restrictions lifted

·4 min read

Ontarians returned to gyms, movie theatres and restaurant dining rooms on Friday as the province rolled back more public health restrictions.

Step 3 of the province's reopening plan, which took effect just after midnight, allows fitness facilities, cinemas, indoor dining, museums and other venues to reopen after a long shutdown aimed at limiting spread of COVID-19.

Hazel Robichaud and her husband were waiting outside The Crooked Cue restaurant in Mississauga, Ont., to grab lunch. Earlier on Friday the couple got their second COVID-19 shots at a pharmacy across the street.

"We're glad to be able to get back in to indoor dining, because it's too hot to sit outside," Hazel Robichaud said, adding they're happy to support local businesses struggling to survive due to strict pandemic measures.

'I'm glad that the restaurants are opening up because ... it would be a shame that all of them disappear."

Several guests were seated inside Maggie's Diner, also in Mississauga, by mid-morning, with others on the patio. Owner Sam Aly said the return of indoor service was a relief.

"I got more customers today than I've gotten all month, so it looks positive," Aly said.

Ontario's move to Step 3 came days earlier than scheduled thanks to positive trends in COVID-19 vaccination coverage and other public health indicators. The province has been gradually rolling back restrictions as pandemic trends have improved since harsh restrictions were introduced in the spring and vaccinations have picked up speed.

Under Step 2 of the reopening plan restaurants were limited to takeout and patio service.

"Anything is a bonus for us right now," said Aly. "Now we can hopefully stand on two feet and try to make some money and try to get out of this debt we're in."

Some restaurants did not reopen on Friday due to lack of staff. They said many employees left the industry for other opportunities during the pandemic and the jobs have been hard to fill.

During the third stage of reopening, social gatherings are limited to 25 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. Rules around masking and physical distancing are still in place, with some exceptions.

Gym patrons don't need to wear masks inside when using equipment, but several people at two Toronto gyms still chose to keep their faces covered as they used the machines on Friday.

Kelvin Waldin said he wasn't bothered by wearing a mask during his workout at a Planet Fitness gym, but felt "iffy" seeing some fellow patrons forego them. Otherwise, he said he wasn't overly worried about safety.

"So far, this gym is good," he said. "It has limited equipment but that's understandable with safety measures. I'm not concerned."

Raj Meduri, another one of the dozen or so people working out at Planet Fitness on Friday morning, said he's fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and doesn't mind if others at the gym choose not to be.

"Vaccinations are a personal thing but coming back to safety measures like masks and disinfecting equipment is important," he said.

"For me, the main thing is that I get to work out."

As of Friday, 79 per cent of adult Ontarians had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 60 per cent were fully vaccinated.

Premier Doug Ford came out firmly against mandating vaccines for workers on Thursday and reiterated that the province isn't planning to introduce a "vaccine passport" system allowing access to certain activities, as has been proposed in other jurisdictions.

However, the government has said people can present receipts from their shots if businesses or other settings ask for it.

Ford thanked Ontarians on Friday for following public health orders and getting vaccinated during the pandemic.

"I'm confident that there are only brighter days ahead," Ford said in a social media video. "Because of your efforts, we are closer than ever before to returning to normal lives."

He asked people to support local business and continue seeking vaccinations against COVID-19.

Ontario reported 159 new COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths from the virus on Friday.

- This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

- With files from Holly McKenzie-Sutter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 15, 2021.

Denise Paglinawan in Mississauga and Rhythm Sachdeva in Toronto, The Canadian Press

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