TORONTO — A prominent business group is calling for clarity on what's next in Ontario's reopening plan as the province meets a major target for further lifting restrictions.
The province announced Thursday that 80 per cent of residents aged 12 and older have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, meaning one of three conditions the province has set for moving beyond Step 3 of its reopening plan has been met.
In light of the news, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business called on the province to communicate its plans for pandemic rules going forward and how it will respond if infections spike again.
"Many businesses are hanging on by their fingernails right now and are super anxious to know what the pathway is to remove these remaining restrictions and what restrictions will stick around," Dan Kelly, president of the group, said in an interview Thursday.
"Government has provided no clarity on that question."
Most businesses are still subject to capacity limits under Step 3, which allows larger group activities outdoors and keeps masking and distancing rules in place for indoor events and spaces.
Capacity rules have had a continued impact on revenue for businesses that depend on in-person customer volumes like wedding planners, event spaces and gyms, Kelly said. He said owners are eager to know what's next so they can plan accordingly.
They also want to know the plan for avoiding future lockdowns if cases spike, he said, after a year of on-and-off shutdowns aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.
The province hasn't yet laid out what public health rules will stay in place after Step 3, though officials including the premier and the top public health doctor have said most restrictions will lift at that point with a few exceptions.
In order to move out of Step 3, the government has also said 75 per cent of people 12 and older must have received their second dose, and all public health units must have 70 per cent of eligible people fully vaccinated.
If all those criteria are met and health indicators are stable once three weeks in Step 3 have passed, the province can roll back restrictions further, making Aug. 6 the earliest possible date for the change.
Kelly said businesses are eager to move ahead by the Aug. 6 date as many depend on the summer season revenue to survive the slower months of the year.
"We really need to know whether or not we're going to be able to salvage a little bit more of the season," he said.
The question of whether all health units will reach the 70 per cent full vaccination target by Aug. 6 is also of concern, Kelly added, as it could mean one region lagging behind could hold the whole province back.
Ontario does not publicly report vaccination status broken down by health unit. But some municipal leaders eager to move beyond Step 3 have noted that the regional targets are a main area of focus in their vaccination drives.
Mayors and chairs of the largest municipalities in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area said this week that they want to meet the reopening milestones "as quickly as possible."
"We are encouraging all residents to get vaccinated to help ensure the reopening continues unabated," the group said in a statement.
"This will go a long way in ensuring the GTHA can move beyond Step 3 and come back stronger than ever."
Other health units outside the densely populated southern Ontario regions have called for more residents to get vaccinated.
The top doctor in the northern Porcupine Health Unit wrote an open letter to residents last week, asking them to get vaccinated amid a lag in appointment bookings after Step 3 rules took effect.
Dr. Lianne Catton said vaccination coverage in the region is lower than the provincial rate and "we have to worry that we won’t meet the provincial (reopening) target for August 6."
Ontario reported 218 new COVID-19 cases and three deaths from the virus on Thursday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 29, 2021.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press