TORONTO – There were roughly 1,700 people registered for Ontario Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism, and Culture Industries Lisa MacLeod’s multi-sectoral technical briefing held virtually last week.

“I believe this is actually one of our largest yet with 1,700 folks registered,” MacLeod said. “I do appreciate all of you taking your time today to walk through with our public health officials, as well as my officials from the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism, and Culture Industries, what the new easing of restrictions means for you.”

Coordinated by MacLeod’s Deputy Chief of Staff Derek Rowland, the Jan. 20 meeting included an introduction from MacLeod followed by a brief message from Ontario’s first Minister for Digital Government Kaleed Rasheed, who talked about the provincial vaccination and QR Code program. Then, Ontario associate chief medical officer of health Dr. Michelle Murti took over, presenting attendees with slides outlining the upcoming COVID-19 pandemic public health safety measures for the next three months. The roughly 40-minute meeting also included an extensive question and answer period, where it was noted that any questions left unanswered should be directed to MacLeod’s office via email. (Minister.MacLeod@ontario.ca).

Murti’s presentation provided an overview of the government’s plans to exit the Modified Step 2 of the “Roadmap to Reopen.” She made sure to note that her presentation didn’t cover everything, and that further details and regulations are still coming in.

“Details regarding the exact public health and workplace safety measures that will be part of reopening will be shared as the regulation is amended and approved by government,” Murti said.

Due to early signals of stabilization of the healthcare sector, Murti said the provincial government released its “gradual and incremental” approach to exiting Modified Step 2 on Jan. 19. She listed five objectives for the approach. These include prioritizing the return of in-person learning, preventing mortality and morbidity associated with COVID-19, protecting healthcare system capacity, re-opening businesses that are currently closed and mitigating against further closures, and protecting public health capacity, which includes a need to support vaccination rollout.

For those wondering how the government decides when it’s safe to re-open, Murti provided a brief note on metrics. She said an overall risk assessment includes public health and clinic judgement based on the metrics, the current pandemic situation, and the risk of resurgence. Some of the metrics used include a decline in the number of people testing positive, a decline in the number of outbreaks in high-risk settings, such as long-term care homes, and the plateauing or decreasing of hospital and Intensive Care Unit admissions.

She outlined the three incremental steps, all of which are subject to ongoing risk assessment, with the first set for Jan. 31. The changes are set out in 21-day intervals with the second being not earlier than Feb. 21, and the third no earlier than March 14.

“The first tranche is no earlier than Jan. 31 of 2022 and that would be reopening to 50 per cent capacity for most indoor public settings,” Murti said. “So, that will now include indoor dining and restaurants, casinos, cinemas, and other places where there’s proof of vaccination required in select settings.”

Murti outlined the rest of the Jan. 31 changes before moving to those that may come later should things progress according to plan. Briefly, for example, the Feb. 21 changes include an increase to 100 per cent capacity for indoor public settings where proof of vaccination is required.

“The questions that you ask actually help inform the ministry and also assist with the public medical officer of health in considering some of the things we’re up against,” MacLeod said at the close of the meeting. “Today was good news for museums, for galleries, for science centres, for our gyms, for our restaurants, for our cinemas. I know it’s the larger event spaces that are what we’re concerned with and, so, if you do have any further questions, please make sure to contact me.”

MacLeod said there were more than 300 questions listed in the session’s chat box. She said her team would try to get to those and relay the answers as soon as possible. She closed the meeting with two notes.

“We will be, in the next little bit, announcing the recipients of the Ontario Tourism Recovery Plan (OTRP). That was a $100 million program, and we want to make sure that we’re supporting those private for-profit companies that have been affected by the various shutdowns and restrictions,” she said. “I encourage you to take advantage of the Staycation Tax Credit. If you’re planning a hockey or basketball tournament or you’re taking your gymnastics or dance group anywhere in the province, you will qualify. It is a $270 million incentive.”

“My team will continue to work with the Ministry of Health in bringing our stakeholders perspective to this conversation,” MacLeod said.

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