Ontario to Lift Most Restrictions Related to COVID-19 When it Exits Step 3


Ontario to Lift Most Restrictions Related to COVID-19 When it Exits Step 3

Date: August 4, 2021

On July 30, 2021, the Ontario government filed a regulation which reveals that when the province exits from Step 3 of its Roadmap to Reopen, most of the existing COVID-19-related restrictions will be lifted. One key exception will be a continuing requirement for indoor masking.

The Roadmap to Reopen contemplates a safe exit from Step 3 when at least 21 days have passed from the date Step 3 commenced (which occurred on July 16, 2021), when certain vaccine thresholds are met and when key public health indicators are stable. In the recently filed O. Reg. 541/21 (Regulation), this is called the “Roadmap Exit Step,” and is a new step added to the Rules for Areas at Step 3.

Note that no areas are currently at the Roadmap Exit Step, and all areas of the province remain at Step 3 until the government announces otherwise.

In this FTR Now, we review the limited rules that apply at the Roadmap Exit Step.

Most Restrictions to be Removed

When the province enters the Roadmap Exit Step, most existing rules and restrictions will be lifted. This includes virtually all sector-specific rules that are currently in effect, as well as a number of the general rules that have applied throughout the pandemic and the province’s reopening strategy. For example, the Regulation indicates that there will be no capacity limits in effect, nor will there be limits on the number of persons who can attend organized events and social gatherings.

Nevertheless, a number of general restrictions will remain in effect that businesses and other organizations will need to follow, and we will briefly review those here.

General Rules

Under the Roadmap Exit Step, all businesses and places may open provided that they follow a number of general requirements, including the following:

  • Most notably, there will continue to be a general indoor masking requirement for all businesses and organizations, subject to the same exceptions that are currently in effect.
  • Businesses and organizations will still be required to comply with all applicable laws as well as the recommendations and advice of public health officials on physical distancing, cleaning or disinfecting.
  • There will be an ongoing requirement to operate in compliance with the advice, recommendations and instructions from a designated health official on screening individuals by, among other things, posting signs at all entrances in a conspicuous location that inform persons on how to screen themselves for COVID-19. Note that the Regulation removes the express requirement to actively screen every person who works at the business or organization before they enter the premises.  
  • Where a mask must be removed by employees of a business or organization for the purpose of consuming drink or food, those persons must be separated by a distance of at least two metres or by plexiglass or some other impermeable barrier.
  • If a person provides services to individuals who are not able to mask, they are required to wear appropriate personal protective equipment if they are required to come within two metres of the unmasked person and are not separated by plexiglass or some other impermeable barrier.
  • Safety plans must be prepared and made available seven days after this requirement first applies to the person responsible for a business or organization, although many businesses and organizations will already have complied with this requirement. The safety plans must contain the prescribed information and be posted in the prescribed manner. Note that at the Roadmap Exit Step, safety plans no longer need to set out plans for cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces and objects, the wearing of personal protective equipment and preventing and controlling crowding.
  • Contact tracing and retention of that information must continue to be done, where currently required.

Specific Rules

Almost all of the specific rules that apply at Step 3 are to be lifted, and the Roadmap Exit Step contains a very limited number of specific rules, including rules that apply to schools, camps for children and cannabis retail stores.  

Schools and private schools within the meaning of the Education Act may open where they operate in accordance with a return to school direction issued by the Ministry of Education and approved by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health. This condition does not apply to First Nations schools. Certain conditions also apply to persons holding a study permit issued under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

Day camps and camps that provide supervised overnight accommodation for children may open where they operate in accordance with the applicable COVID-19 safety guidelines produced by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health.

Authorized cannabis retail stores may open if they provide in-person sales or sales through an alternative method.

Going Forward

As noted at the outset, Ontario remains at Step 3 of the Roadmap to Reopen, and therefore all of the existing restrictions remain in effect. At this time, the province has not announced a firm date when it will enter the Roadmap Exit Step.

Given the nature of the pandemic and the existence of variants within Ontario, it remains possible that the restrictions set out in the Regulation may change before the province exits Step 3. We will continue to monitor all developments of interest to employers, and will provide further updates if changes occur.

Should you require any further information about the Roadmap Exit Step, please contact your regular Hicks Morley lawyer.

The article in this client update provides general information and should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. This publication is copyrighted by Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP and may not be photocopied or reproduced in any form, in whole or in part, without the express permission of Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP. ©