Toronto is reopening all city office buildings, with all fully vaccinated employees expected to return to in-person work in the next few weeks.
During a news conference on Tuesday, Mayor John Tory also announced that city hall and all civic centres will be reopened soon.
"We will continue to comply with public health requirements and provincial physical distancing requirements, but we are now focused on the maximum — not trying to maintain the minimum," Tory said.
"Every City of Toronto office building will be open to the maximum occupancy possible under the rules, and that will increase automatically as the pandemic recedes and as physical distancing requirements in workplaces are modified by the provincial government," Tory added.
Throughout the pandemic, more than 75 per cent of City of Toronto employees have been working from their office without a work from home option, Tory said.
He said the remaining 25 per cent of the people, who work mainly in offices at city hall and in buildings around the city, have been able to continue to do their work from home, he said.
City hall, civic centres reopening
City hall and other civic centres — home to everything from payment windows to comittee meetings — are set to reopen to the public on Jan. 4, the mayor said.
"This will mean the public will be able to access the main floor rotunda, washrooms, library and counter services on the first floor and attend scheduled meetings with me, with councillors and with our team members," said Tory.
He said the timeline will allow for proper notification of city hall employees.
Tory said the digital options for counter services rolled out during the pandemic will also remain in place so that people can access both in-person and online.
"Opening city buildings to the community in a safe and responsible manner is another major step forward in helping Toronto return to a more active and thriving city, with our own offices opening up to maximum capacity," Tory said.
Mayor hopes other employers will follow suit
Tory said by reopening buildings and bringing back fully vaccinated office staff, the City of Toronto is leading by example and encouraging other employers to do the same.
"City staff have laid out a safe and cautious return to office plan and will continue to monitor the pandemic day by day," he said.
"I am confident that this safe and responsible return to the office at the city and at major employers over the coming weeks will help ensure that Toronto comes back stronger than ever."
City Manager Chris Murray said the Toronto public service is putting "a tremendous amount of effort" into recovery from the pandemic and reopening.
He said it's an "important and exciting time" for the city.
"The reopening of our buildings and return of remote staff to offices signals another important milestone of our city's recovery," Murray said.
"With the health and safety of employees and the public as the highest priority, the City of Toronto's reopening plan will bring employees back to the office, open civic centres to the public and help jump start the downtown Toronto ecosystem."
CUPE Local 79, the union representing more 20,000 city employees, is more hesitant about the reopening plan.
In an email sent to CBC News, CUPE spokesperson Tor Sandberg said a Jan. 4 implementation date seems ambitious in light of rising COVID-19 case numbers.
The union is urging the city to continue being responsive to changing public health directives and has requested more details and clear policies on how the reopening will proceed.
COVID-19 vaccine engagement program extended
Meanwhile, Tory has also announced the extension of the City of Toronto's COVID-19 vaccine engagement program, which is now set to run until July 1, 2022.
He said this will ensure continued opportunities to increase vaccine equity and access for all residents, including those eligible for third doses and children aged five to 11.
Tory said $6 million in additional funding to support the extension is from the government of Ontario, and will provide continued, critical outreach to equity-deserving groups, supporting efforts to:
Achieve Team Toronto's target of 90 per cent of residents fully vaccinated.
Address the developing challenges associated with vaccine certification.
Provide family based engagement for the immunization of children age five to 11 years old.
Facilitate access to third dose and booster doses to those who are eligible
Tory said the extension will mean more work for the city's vaccine engagement teams, whose work he praised.
"They worked steadily for months and still have much work to do in support of our children aged 5 to 11, those eligible for booster shots and other vulnerable residents. This extension will allow for uninterrupted and invaluable support to continue."