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Ontario Premier Doug Ford says many public health restrictions may be lifting Tuesday, but it isn’t “the Wild West.”

The province’s COVID-19 vaccine certificate system is set to end, and all remaining capacity limits for indoor public settings will be lifted.

Ford says the “light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter every day,” but people still need to be cautious because the pandemic isn’t over yet.

The premier says he doesn’t want to set a date yet for the end of mask mandates, but will listen to the advice of the chief medical officer of health.

Last week, the province’s top doctor said masks mandates are staying in place for now, but when they are removed for public settings they will simultaneously be lifted in schools.

Ford says a change to masking policy might come in a few weeks or after March Break, but it’s not “far away.”

“I’m always going to follow the advice of the chief medical officer, health and science. And there’s no doubt: still be cautious. This isn’t going to be the Wild West,” Ford said at a news conference on Monday.

“We’re just glad through the hard work of everyone in Ontario, we’re able to take the next step.”

A coalition of children’s hospitals, including SickKids in Toronto and CHEO in Ottawa, is urging the government to keep mask requirements for schools for now.

“Case counts and hospitalizations, while on the decline, remain high,” the hospitals said in a statement. “Many children remain unvaccinated. Young children are still ineligible. The evidence is clear: Masking helps prevent transmission not only at school, but prevents kids from then spreading COVID-19 at home to unvaccinated siblings, family or community members.”

Meanwhile, some establishments in Ontario will maintain proof-of-vaccine requirements even after the province ends its vaccine certificate system on Tuesday, saying they want to ensure that people feel safe and comfortable coming through their doors.

Jan Campbell-Luxton, owner of De La Terre Bakery + Café in St. Catharines, Ont., said he and front-of-house staff came to a joint decision to keep checking for proof of vaccination against COVID-19.

Maintaining the policy feels like “a fairly small price” to pay to ensure both staff and customers feel safe, he said.

“We felt like at the moment, it seemed a bit premature to simply abolish the vaccine requirements and just throw everything open,” said Campbell-Luxton.

“We’re certainly not interested in kicking people out, so just as it is today, after March 1, if you’re unvaccinated and want to get something to go, you just have to wear a mask and we also do curbside pickup.”

Campbell-Luxton noted the business will also keep a capacity limit of 50 per cent for the time being, despite the province lifting capacity limits in all remaining indoor public settings as of Tuesday as well.

The café will be evaluating public health advice and indicators every two weeks before deciding to scrap any public health measures, he said.

“It’s been a long, hard two years and it feels really important that anybody who comes and sits down in our place of business will feel comfortable and safe knowing that we’ve done everything we can to make sure that the people around them are adhering to public health policies and are as unlikely as possible to be ending up in hospital,” Campbell-Luxton said.

The Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa said its proof-of-vaccination policy is here to stay until a future date that has “yet to be determined.”

“Visitors have been really positive and pleased that we have adhered to the highest levels of safety, indicating that this is a key part of their satisfaction with visiting our museum,” John Swettenham, the museum’s vice-president of public affairs and chief marketing officer, wrote in a statement.

Swettenham said the museum is also maintaining “timed ticketing to help manage flow and capacity.”

Revue Cinema in Toronto said in a tweet that it will continue requiring proof of vaccination for all of its regular screenings and special events until April 4.

The theatre said it understands that many filmgoers have bought advance tickets to upcoming screenings “under the assumption that proof of vaccination would still be required,” noting that it wanted to “honour that commitment.”

At Underdogs Boxing Club in the Niagara region, founder, president and head coach Laura Ip said the proof-of-vaccination requirement will remain in place, noting the non-profit boxing club will evaluate whether to discontinue the policy “based on new developments that are evidence-based and in-line with public health.”

“Whilst vaccination does not eliminate the spread of COVID, it does reduce the likelihood of contracting the virus, spreading it to others, and – of course – it provides significant protection against serious illness and even more protection against death,” Ip said.

Ip noted that the boxing club has members ranging in age from 10 years old to 69 years old with varying health status, so it wants to do its best to protect them and the community at large.

Some public health experts are advising establishments to keep proof-of-vaccine requirements – and commending ones that have already decided to do so.

Niagara’s acting medical officer of health, Dr. Mustafa Hirji, said as Ontario lifts many of the provincewide protections put in place to stop the spread of the virus, keeping people safe from COVID-19 will “heavily depend” on the actions of individuals and organizations.

Hirji said Niagara Region Public Health “strongly supports” employers who continue to ask patrons for proof of vaccination.

“We commend them for their ongoing commitment to the health and safety of their customers, employees and community, and encourage residents to continue to support them with their business,” he said.

Hirji said that while some residents may feel the risks of COVID-19 are acceptable, they should remember that many community members may still be at greater risk and acknowledge that those individuals and their loved ones may wish to continue to take “greater precaution.”

“Let’s support each other in enabling everyone to make individual choices around safety from COVID-19, and not oppose businesses who offer that level of safety to some of their clients,” he said.

At a recent news conference, London’s acting medical officer of health, Dr. Alex Summers, said he “strongly supports the ongoing use of proof-of-vaccination policies” in settings where people gather or work in close proximity.

“Especially during this peak of continued ongoing Omicron transmission in our community, these policies, I think, particularly ones that support and encourage third dose and booster dose uptake, are to be applauded,” Summers said.

Ontario COVID-19 numbers

Ontario is reporting 849 people hospitalized and 279 in intensive care due to COVID-19, though not all hospitals report data over the weekend.

There were 842 people with COVID-19 in hospitals and 281 in ICU the previous day.

Ontario is reporting three more COVID-19 deaths.

There are 1,315 new COVID-19 cases being reported, but provincial policies limiting access to testing mean that number is likely higher.

Wastewater data being monitored by Ontario’s science advisory table suggests that COVID-19 activity in the province is starting to rise again, after consistently declining since early January.

The province is set to lift all remaining capacity limits for indoor public settings on Tuesday, as well as end its vaccine certificate system.

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