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Ontario's restaurant industry has been up in arms since the Ontario government allowed many businesses to operate at full capacity while leaving restrictions on restaurants, bars and gyms in place.Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

The Ontario government is set to allow the province’s restaurants and gyms to return to full indoor capacity as early as Monday, according to a senior government source.

The province had said it would unveil a long-awaited reopening plan on Friday that would include a timeline for lifting the remaining capacity restrictions on restaurants, bars and gyms.

Late Thursday, a senior government source confirmed the plan could see some of these limits lifted by Monday. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to discuss cabinet decisions publicly.

The restaurant industry reacted with anger earlier this month when the government initially allowed large venues, such as the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, to operate at full capacity – but left restaurants with indoor physical-distancing rules, which cut their capacity to 50 per cent or less.

The rest of the reopening plan, expected to cover the next three to six months, is also expected to outline a potential date for when the province might wind down its newly launched vaccine-certificate system.

Ontario launches Verify Ontario, QR code-based digital app for proof of vaccination. Here’s where it’s required

The rules, which require proof-of-vaccination at restaurants, bars, sports venues, theatres and other businesses considered high risk for COVID-19, went into effect Sept. 22. A digital system, with a smartphone app and QR-code bearing vaccine passports, was unveiled last week.

Cabinet met to discuss the reopening plan on Thursday. The restaurant industry was invited to a briefing on the plans set for Friday morning, before an announcement expected later the same day.

Meanwhile, pressure has been mounting on the government to tighten other COVID-19 measures, including making vaccinations mandatory for health care workers.

The Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) said Thursday that 120 of the province’s hospitals have agreed that the provincial government needs to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for the entire sector’s employees.

The OHA says it held a meeting of its members last week to respond to the letter Mr. Ford sent out asking health care organizations for input on the idea of mandatory vaccinations while raising the spectre of staff shortages if the unvaccinated were forced off the job.

In a response to the Premier released on Thursday, the OHA said 120 of its 140 member hospitals, employing a total of 166,000 full-time staff – and accounting for 94 per cent of hospital workers in Ontario – had all agreed in a video conference that a “provincial directive” is needed to ensure the entire sector gets the jab.

“Far too many health care workers remain unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, posing a significant and ongoing patient safety risk,” the OHA letter reads.

Ontario has already made vaccinations mandatory for staff in long-term care homes, and is facing increasing pressure to bring in similar measures for the rest of the health care system. The province’s independent COVID-19 Science Advisory Table this week also called for mandatory vaccinations for health care workers.

Some hospitals, including Toronto’s University Health Network and SickKids, have made vaccinations mandatory on their own. The OHA says 81 per cent of hospitals that responded to an October survey reported vaccination rates of more than 90 per cent, up considerably from just a month earlier.

The OHA letter also points out that hospital workers are already required to show immunity to other communicable diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella and tuberculosis.

The hospital association’s letter also addresses concerns about staff shortages, saying that health care workers worried about working alongside the unvaccinated are “threatening to leave if we cannot protect them.” It says outbreaks can shut entire units for weeks and force staff into isolation, creating unpredictable disruptions. Plus, patients can ask that only vaccinated individuals treat them and, the letter warns, allowing the unvaccinated to offer health care poses “inherent risks and increased liability considerations.”

Last week, Mr. Ford asked various health care organizations to provide their input on the issue by Tuesday. The Premier said that about 15 per cent of hospital workers, representing tens of thousands of people, remained unvaccinated. He also expressed concerned about the impact of a mandatory policy on rural and remote hospitals, where staffing shortages could be more acute. Recent decisions by Quebec to delay its mandatory vaccine policy and by B.C. to soften its rules for long-term care workers have also given the Ontario government pause.

The OHA says it is recommending that any provincial directive still allow individual hospitals to make decisions on timing and consequences for those who do not comply, such as unpaid leaves or firing. It also says the Chief Medical Officer of Health should review the efforts of all hospitals by Jan. 15, 2022, to determine whether more action is necessary.

In the legislature this week, MPPs faced off over a private member’s bill from Liberal MPP John Fraser calling for mandatory vaccinations in health care and education. In an attempt to undermine the Liberals’ argument, the PC government released an e-mail from Thunder Bay-Superior North Liberal MPP Michael Gravelle asking the government to accommodate a personal support worker in a long-term care home who was refusing vaccination. The Liberals said the appeal was wrong, and Mr. Gravelle issued a statement apologizing for the letter.

Both Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca and Opposition NDP Leader Andrea Horwath have accused Mr. Ford of pandering to anti-vaccine extremists.

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