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Ontario eases capacity limits for some sports, event venues


TORONTO — Ontario is easing capacity limits at certain venues where proof of vaccination is required, paving the way for more people immunized against COVID-19 to attend conventions, concerts and Blue Jays games.

The loosened restrictions come as Ontario's daily case rates have remained stable for the past several weeks, and the province's chief medical officer of health said he's confident it can be done safely.

"Increasing capacity limits does not mean we can let our guard down," Dr. Kieran Moore said. "We must remain cautious and humble in the face of this Delta variant."

Starting Saturday, capacity limits at outdoor events where people stand will increase to up to 75 per cent capacity or 15,000 people, whichever is less. That's up from the previous cap of 5,000 people.

For outdoor events where people are seated, limits will be increased to up to 75 per cent capacity or 30,000 people.

That means the Blue Jays are able to increase capacity at the Rogers Centre in Toronto to 30,000 – up from 15,000 spectators – for their push to make the playoffs.

The province also said proof of vaccination will now be required in outdoor settings where the normal capacity is 20,000 people or more.

Indoors, cinemas, concert venues, sporting events, banquet halls, convention centres, racing venues, and commercial film and TV productions with studio audiences will have capacity limits of up to 50 per cent or 10,000 people, whichever is less. That's up from a previous limit of 1,000 people.

The changes do not apply to restaurants, which this week had to start asking for patrons' proof of immunization for indoor dining as the province' vaccine certificate system took effect.

Restaurants do not currently have capacity limits, as such, but must allow for distancing of two metres between tables. Still, they had been hoping to see that restriction lifted.

"We’re disappointed, we were hoping that the government would recognize the role we’ve played in controlling the pandemic," said James Rilett, a vice-president of Restaurants Canada.

"Effectively, most restaurants operate at about 50 per cent capacity because of those limits. Our thinking is because everyone who goes in the restaurant has to be vaccinated, it should be a safe space and we should be able to lift those two-metre distances."

Moore said reviewing capacity limits in other venues is on his radar, but he doesn't want to rush to open up more since September has also seen elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools reopening in person, and many people physically returning to their workplaces.

"Slow and steady has been our mantra over the last several months," he said. "It’s done us well and I want to keep our rates down."

Ontario reported 727 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, and eight more deaths. More than 250 of those cases were in people aged 20 to 39.

There are 193 people in intensive care units due to COVID-19, with 108 of them unvaccinated, 11 partially vaccinated, 11 fully vaccinated and the remaining 63 with an unknown vaccination status.

About 86 per cent of eligible Ontarians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and about 80 per cent are fully vaccinated.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission recently said that mandating vaccination "to protect people at work or when receiving services" is permissible under the Human Rights Code, though legitimate medical exemptions must be accommodated.

The Human Rights Code prevents discrimination based on creed, but the commission said that a singular belief against vaccinations or masks does not amount to a creed.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2021.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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