Ontario to reopen restaurants at 50% capacity on Jan. 31, sources say

Ontario Premier Doug Ford will announce Thursday that restaurants in the province will be allowed to reopen at 50 per cent capacity starting on Jan. 31, Radio-Canada has confirmed.

The news was first reported by CityNews on Wednesday evening. Radio-Canada confirmed the news with two senior government sources.

Currently, food and drink establishments in Ontario are only allowed to offer takeout, drive-thru and delivery services. No indoor service is allowed.

Restaurants are allowed to have outdoor areas open, but they are restricted to no more than 10 people from different households per table and groups larger than 10 if they are from the same household. Those groups can be joined by a caregiver and a person from a different household who lives alone. 

Patrons must remain seated outdoors, no dancing or singing is permitted, patrons must be screened for COVID-19, and hours for the sale, service and consumption of alcohol are limited.

The Ford government put those restrictions in place on Jan. 5 to slow the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, which touched off a surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

People walk past a restaurant window in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood on Nov. 23, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Premier promised positive news 

On Tuesday, Ford told Ottawa radio station CFRA that he would make an announcement this week about reducing COVID-19 restrictions and that he dislikes imposing the public health measures. He promised positive news on restrictions.

Along with the restrictions on indoor dining, museums, zoos and other such attractions were shut down, as were gyms, indoor recreation facilities, cinemas and indoor concert venues. Retail settings and personal care services were capped at 50 per cent capacity.

In a news release on Wednesday, before the news about the announcement was leaked, Restaurants Canada, a national not-for-profit association, called on the province to provide Ontario’s food service industry with “clear guidance” on reopening indoor dining.

“Restaurants can’t simply open their doors at a moment’s notice,” Restaurants Canada president and CEO Todd Barclay, said in the release. “They need to order food and supplies, schedule staff and prepare menus.”

Barclay said restaurant operators need to know when restrictions will be lifted and what form any continuing restrictions will take.

Industry group calls for more financial support

Restaurants Canada said it sent a letter to Ford, repeating its call to meet with members of his government and public health officials to talk about decisions that affect the operations of food and drink establishments. 

The letter also called for more financial support for food service businesses to help them recover from the massive debts they have incurred due to restrictions.

James Rilett, Restaurants Canada Vice President, Central Canada, said in the release that financial support for food service businesses is essential.

“With restaurants across Ontario now taking on more and more debt due to the province’s latest restrictions, ensuring they will have enough cash flow to continue their operations is becoming increasingly critical,” Rilett said.

“Current emergency aid from the provincial government only covers a small portion of losses and leaves out many hard-hit businesses altogether. Our industry deserves sufficient compensation and a seat at the decision-making table to work with government on ways to stop the roller coaster of restaurant closures.”

On Wednesday, Ontario reported 4,132 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 589 people in intensive care — a decrease in hospitalizations from the 4,183 recorded the previous day, but an increase in ICU patients, up from 580.

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