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Ontario Premier Doug Ford attends a press briefing in Toronto, on Oct. 22, 2021.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he will wear his mask “for the first few days” in the legislature after mandates lift on Monday.

The province has announced that mask mandates will lift in most public spaces on March 21, including schools, though they will remain in settings such as long-term care and public transit for about a month longer.

Government House Leader Paul Calandra is rescinding the mask requirement for the legislative chamber and in committees as of March 21, and the Speaker says the requirements will lift that day for the whole legislative precinct.

Mr. Ford says with the mandates being lifted, if people want to keep wearing a mask, then “God bless you,” but if they don’t that’s fine too.

But Mr. Ford says he always errs on the side of caution so he will be keeping a mask on in the legislature “for the first few days” after the house resumes Monday following a one-week break.

Several school boards have asked to be able to keep their mask mandates in place for a few weeks after schools return following March break, but Mr. Ford has said no.

Many post-secondary institutions have said they will keep mask mandates until the end of the term, and when asked Tuesday why they can do that but public schools can’t, Colleges and Universities Minister Jill Dunlop said post-secondary institutions are autonomous legal entities.

Ontario reported 688 people in hospital Tuesday with COVID-19, and 220 in intensive care. That’s compared with 228 patients in ICUs a day earlier. The province said the number of hospitalizations was not available Monday.

There were 13 new deaths from the virus reported.

Ontario also logged 1,076 new COVID-19 cases, but the province’s top doctor has said the actual number is likely 10 times higher, given that access to PCR testing is restricted.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said the Omicron subvariant BA.2, which is more transmissible, will likely account for half of the COVID-19 cases in Ontario “within the next short period of time.”

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said earlier this month that BA.2 would likely be the dominant strain in Ontario by mid-March, but so far isn’t increasing hospitalizations.

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