Ontario will move into the initial phase of its reopening plan three days ahead of schedule on Friday, the government says, including loosening restrictions on retail and outdoor activities.
The province said the decision was made based on vaccination rates and "continuing improvements in key public health indicators."
In a statement, Premier Doug Ford thanked Ontarians for their "enormous sacrifices" and credited the ongoing immunization campaign for making it possible.
"As we begin to enjoy the benefits of the first step in our roadmap, like meeting friends on a patio or visiting your favourite local store, please do so safely by continuing to follow all public health guidelines," Ford said.
The province was initially supposed to begin Phase 1 of the plan, called the Roadmap to Reopen, on June 14. Instead it will take effect at 12:01 a.m. ET Friday.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the cabinet met this morning to discuss the move.
Phase 1 allows for changes like larger outdoor gatherings, patio dining with up to four people and non-essential retail to open at 15 per cent capacity. Outdoor religious services, group exercise and day camps for children can also begin again, with limitations and health measures in place.
As of Sunday, more than 10 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been administered in Ontario. About 61.2 per cent of the total population, or 72 per cent of those aged 18 and older, have now had at least one shot.
The government and Chief Medical Officer of Health David Williams had set a threshold of at least 60 per cent of adults with a first shot before moving ahead with the start of reopening.
Case counts continue to decline
Meanwhile, week-over-week COVID-19 trends continue to decline overall.
The province reported 525 new cases of COVID-19 this morning, the fewest since late September 2020.
Labs completed just 15,117 tests and Public Health Ontario logged a positivity rate of 3.6 per cent, but today's case count is well below last Monday, when 916 infections were confirmed with just over 18,000 tests done.
The rolling seven-day average of daily cases fell to 758, its lowest point since Oct. 21, 2020.
There are about 7,937 active infections provincewide, down from the third-wave peak of nearly 43,000.
Ontario: New daily cases of COVID-19
As of Sunday, there were 497 people with COVID-related illnesses being treated in intensive care units, including 31 patients who were transferred from Manitoba. It marks the first time that figure has fallen below 500 since early April. Of those in ICUs, 339 patients needed a ventilator to breathe.
According to data from Critical Care Services Ontario, the average number of new daily admissions to ICUs continues to fall.
The Ministry of Health recorded the deaths of 15 more people with the illness, pushing the official toll to 8,869.
Meanwhile, public health units collectively administered another 116,829 doses of COVID-19 vaccines yesterday, the most ever on a Sunday.
More Ontarians are also eligible to book their second dose of a vaccine through the provincial system today.
Those aged 70 and older, as well as people who received their first dose of an mRNA vaccine on or before April 18, can now book their second shot on the province's website or through its phone line.
Delta strain to become dominant
Despite the encouraging numbers, officials are keeping a close eye on the spread of the delta variant, according to Dr. Barbara Yaffe, associate chief medical officer of health.
"I think it's fair to say that the Delta strain will become the predominant strain in Ontario, just as it has happened in other jurisdictions, particularly in the U.K.," Yaffe told reporters.
Yaffe said the strain, a variant of concern first identified in India, has been found in "pretty much" every public health unit in Ontario and in some long-term care homes where all residents have been vaccinated.
"If you are vaccinated, particularly if you have had two doses, you are well protected from the Delta strain, particularly with the mRNA vaccines. If we are vaccinated and if we use good infection prevention and control, we will be able to blunt its spread," Yaffe said.