Last month, Ontario released its plan to follow a cautious and phased approach to lifting public health measures when health indicators stabilized and showed continued improvement. Positivity rates have fallen, and new admissions to hospital and ICU have been declining week over week, signalling that the Omicron peak is behind us. This past Thursday, in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the Ontario government advanced the next step, lifting many public health restrictions as indicators continued to improve. Capacity limits in many indoor settings where proof of vaccination is required have been removed, including restaurants and bars without dance facilities, gyms, cinemas, and bingo halls. Indoor social gathering limits have been increased to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors, and spectator capacity at sports arenas will increase to 50 percent of the usual seating capacity. Indoor public settings limits, including religious ceremonies, grocery stores, pharmacies, retail, and shopping malls, will be maintained at, or increased to, the number of people who can maintain two metres of physical distance. On March 1, if health indicators continue to improve, plans are underway to remove additional restrictions, including indoor capacity limits and proof of vaccination requirements for most environments. Businesses and other entities may choose to continue to require proof of vaccination. Masking requirements will remain in place, with a specific timeline to be determined later. You can find a complete listing of the new and proposed March 1 regulations at www.Ontario.ca.
This week, the Ontario government announced it is investing $90 million over three years through the new Addictions Recovery Fund to immediately expand addictions services and increase the number of treatment beds across the province. This funding will help thousands of Ontarians access enhanced specialized services for mental health and addictions treatment, including in rural, Northern, and Indigenous communities. Studies have shown that opioid-related deaths surged by 79 percent during the first two waves of the pandemic, with Ontarians at risk of overdose facing significant barriers to accessing treatment. Investments will support 396 new addictions treatment beds for adults who need intensive support, helping stabilize and provide care for approximately 7,000 clients per year. These investments will also establish six new Youth Wellness Hubs offering developmentally tailored primary care and mental health and addictions treatment for youth ages 12 to 25. Also, two new Mobile Mental Health Clinics will provide a full suite of mental health and addictions services directly to individuals living in remote, rural, and underserved communities.
The Ontario government also announced a $73 million investment over three years to train and provide clinical placements for over 16,000 personal support workers (PSWs) and nursing students as part of the Government’s plan to recruit and retain tens of thousands of long-term care staff. The new Preceptor Resource and Education Program for Long-Term Care will provide more opportunities for career development within long-term care and ensure PSWs and nursing students receive necessary hands-on experience to serve residents’ needs better.
In addition, on Friday, February 18, Ontario is expanding booster dose eligibility for youth aged 12 to 17, with at least 168 days (approximately six months) since their second dose. Appointments can be booked through the provincial booking system and at select pharmacies administering the Pfizer vaccine. To book an appointment online, individuals must be 12 years old at the time of appointment.
The Government continues to increase the availability of free rapid testing kits for the public. We are in the middle of distributing five million rapid tests each week for another seven weeks through pharmacy and grocery locations across the province and 500,000 through community partners in vulnerable communities. A list of participating retailers, including current sites, can be found at Ontario.ca/rapidtest.
Remember to follow public health guidelines, get vaccinated if you have not done so, and stay safe.
MPP for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry