Back to Step Two


By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Step Two of Ontario’s Roadmap to Re-Open begins Thursday.

Ahead of the original timetable, officials are hoping this time is the charm.

Premier Doug Ford also announced that vaccine passports are done March 1.

Ford made the announcement on Valentines Day, citing falling COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, vaccination compliance and fewer ICU admissions as the reasoning behind lifting restrictions.

“This is great news and a sign of just how far we’ve come together in our fight against the virus,” Ford said in a statement Monday.

However, he added a cautionary note.

“While we aren’t out of the woods just yet, we are moving in the right direction,” Ford said.

Chatham-Kent’s medical officer of health also expressed caution of the earlier than expected rollback.

Dr. David Colby said he’s paying heed to the recommendations made by Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.

“We need to pay close attention to the numbers,” Colby explained, adding decision-making must reflect how COVID-19 cases are impacting the health-care system.

Another big change in the wings is the closure of the mass vaccination clinic at the Bradley Centre. As of March 3, it is being relocated to 730 Richmond St. in Chatham.

Chatham-Kent Health Alliance is also gearing up for change as the Ministry of Health has indicated all Ontario hospitals may resume surgical and other procedures at up to 70 per cent of 2019 volumes.

As part of the return to normal, CKHA president and CEO Lori Marshall said day surgeries will resume this week.

Marshall said the alliance must still be prepared to accept patient transfers from outside the municipality.

The hospital still continues to have employees who were redeployed from the surgical program to deal with the last COVID-19 wave.

How the hospital moves forward will depend on staffing and the availability of beds, Marshall said.

Local business owner Thomas Smith of Gentry Manor says he’s looking forward to welcoming back the public, albeit in a different way.

Smith said the loss of staff being experienced by the restaurant industry across the board has altered the operation of Gentry Manor’s Small Plates restaurant.

“I don’t foresee us getting back to the same level,” Smith said Monday, adding the availability of wait staff just isn’t there.

“People are just not interested in the restaurant business anymore,” he said. “Because of all the shutdowns, people had to switch gears and find other jobs.”

However, Smith said Small Plates is planning on offering a “travelling the world” international cuisine event on a monthly basis, as well as opening the patio when the warm weather returns.

As for the vaccine passport, Smith said he simply plans to follow the rules.

“We won’t need it by the time we reopen the patio,” he added.

A slew of public health measures will be eased Feb. 17, including allowing 50 people at social indoor gatherings and 100 outdoors.

In terms of public events, a total of 50 people will be allowed indoors, with no limit outdoors.

Capacity limits in a variety of indoor public settings, including restaurants, movie theatres and casinos, are being removed as long as proof of vaccination is provided.

Fifty per cent capacity at sports arenas and concert venues is also legislated, and limits at indoor weddings, funerals and religious services are gone as long as proof of vaccine is shown, or if physical distancing can be maintained.

Also, as of Feb. 18, the province is expanding vaccine booster dose eligibility to youth aged 12 to 17.

The removal of vaccine passports will go forward, the government said, provided public health system markers continue to improve.

And while Ontario will no longer require proof of vaccines for all settings, businesses can ask to see them if they wish.

However, masking safety protocols will remain in place.

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