WINCHESTER – As telegraphed several weeks ago, the provincial Covid restrictions imposed for the last two years are gradually being lifted, as the number of Covid infections seem to be steadily decreasing.

In a press conference on Mon., Feb. 14, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that he was going to begin to roll back some pandemic restrictions and ultimately hoped a return to normal would be sooner than later.

He said, “As I said, from the very beginning, extraordinary measures that we introduced during this pandemic were always intended as a last resort. And I stood at this very podium and promised you that these tools would only be used as long as they were absolutely necessary, and not one day longer.”

One of the first steps in moving away from restrictions was getting students back in schools. In January students were able to return to class but with mask restrictions in place.

Ford said, “At the peak of the Omicron wave, over 4,000 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Ontario. That number has now dropped to 1,500.”

The premier announced that beginning on Feb. 17, the province will remove all capacity limits, except for sporting events, concert venues, and theatres, which will be capped at 50 per cent. The vaccination passport will no longer be required in all settings; however, this means that the vaccination passport is no longer a legislative requirement for it to be required in different settings. Where it is still needed will be posted. Businesses and other settings may choose to continue to ask for a vaccination passport, but only if they want to. The masking rules remain in effect.

Ford said, “Social gathering limits will increase to 25 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. Organized public events will increase to 50 people indoors with no limits outdoors, and we intend to eliminate capacity limits in all indoor public settings at the same time, and at the recommendation of Dr. Moore. We will lift proof of vaccination requirements for all settings based on the advice of Dr. Moore and what we have learned over the pandemic. We will need to keep masking in place for just a little bit longer.

Ford stressed that there was never any doubt in his mind that the restrictions as frustrating as they were, paid off in keeping residents safer than they would have been had the province done nothing.

He said, “The steps we took together as difficult as they were, were absolutely necessary and saved 10s of thousands of lives from Covid-19. We’re able to take this step now because of each and every one of you, because of our nurses, our doctors, hospital workers, because of every single person who volunteered in a vaccine clinic and every single person who played a part in this fight.”

Ford pointed out that his decision had nothing at all to do with what was happening in Ottawa, or Windsor even though he had declared a state of emergency in Ontario.

Locally in SD&G, residents will soon be seeing the difference that calling off some restrictions will make.

While celebrating the decrease of Covid infections in the province, Ford stressed that he was not going to tolerate the kinds of protests that have been happening through the province over the past two weeks.

He said, “And while Ottawa remains a more complex situation involving municipal, provincial and federal law enforcement, all three levels of government are focused on ending the illegal occupation of those who are still there, to those of you who are there with a sole objective of causing disruption [and] chaos.”

Some mask requirements will remain in place and will be an optional requirement depending on what a business wants to do.

Beginning on Feb. 17, capacity limits will be removed for several indoor settings where proof of vaccination is required, including restaurants; bars and other food establishments that do not have dancing; retailers, including shopping malls, and gyms and non-spectator sports’ facilities. Capacity limits will be removed from movie theatres, meeting and event areas, museums, zoos, aquariums, casinos, and bingo halls as well as churches.

The province is also lifting some restriction for long-term care homes.

In early February the maximum number of designated caregivers per resident was increased from two to four. Residents who have received at least three doses of Covid -19 vaccine will be allowed to resume social day trips.

Feb. 21, visitors five years and older who have had at least two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, will be able to resume visits to long-term care residents. The number of visitors at a time, per resident will also increase from two to three, including caregivers. All residents, regardless of vaccination status, will be able to resume social day trips.

Adult day programs can resume, along with the return of entertainers and external personal care services in the homes, however social activities should remain small, with up to 10 individuals.