COVID-19: Ontario inches towards reopening with three-step roadmap

21 May 2021

As case counts decrease and vaccination rates increase, the Ontario government has released a new framework for reopening the province following the anticipated expiry of the current provincial stay-at-home order on June 2, 2021.



On May 20, 2021, the Ontario government released its "Roadmap to Reopen", which sets out three "Steps" for reopening, summarized below. Each Step is contingent upon certain vaccination rate thresholds, and other key public health indicators being met.  The province has indicated that each Step will be separated by a period of at least 21 days.

The province has also eliminated certain restrictions under the current stay-at-home order. Effective 12:01 a.m. on May 22, 2021, outdoor recreational amenities, such as golf courses and driving ranges, tennis and basketball courts and other sports fields, will reopen, while outdoor gatherings and organized public events will be permitted for a maximum of five (5) people. 

Step One

Ontario is anticipated to enter Step One in the week of June 14, 2021, after 60% of adults have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The foregoing date may change, depending on key public health indicators including hospitalizations, ICU occupancy and new admissions, and COVID-19 case rates.

During Step One, the following activities will be permitted:

  • Outdoor gatherings of up to ten (10) people;
  • Outdoor dining of up to four (4) people per table;
  • Outdoor fitness classes, personal training and sports training of up to ten (10) people;
  • Essential retail at 25% capacity and can sell all goods (including discount and big box);
  • Non-essential retail at 15% capacity;
  • Retail stores in malls closed unless the stores have a street facing entrance;
  • Outdoor religious services, rites and ceremonies with capacity limited to permit 2 metres' physical distancing;
  • Horse racing and motor speedways without spectators;
  • Outdoor horse riding;
  • Outdoor pools, splash pads and wading pools with capacity limited to permit 2 metres' physical distancing;
  • Outdoor zoos, landmarks, historic sites, and botanical gardens with capacity limits;
  • Campsites, campgrounds and short-term rentals; and
  • Ontario Parks.

Step Two

Ontario is anticipated to enter Step Two at least 21 days following the beginning of Step One, provided that at least 70% of adults have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. This timeframe is flexible, and will depend on the key public health indicators noted above.

During Step Two, the following activities will be permitted:

  • Outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people;
  • Indoor gatherings of up to five (5) people and other restrictions;
  • Outdoor dining of up to six (6) people per table;
  • Outdoor sports and leagues;
  • Overnight camps;
  • Outdoor meeting and event spaces with capacity limits;
  • Non-essential retail at 25% capacity; essential retail at 50% capacity;
  • Personal care services where face coverings can be worn at all times with capacity limits;
  • Outdoor cinemas and performing arts with capacity limits;
  • Horse racing and motor speedways for spectators with capacity limits;
  • Outdoor tour and guide services with capacity limits;
  • Indoor religious services, rites or ceremony gatherings at 15% capacity;
  • Public libraries with capacity limits;
  • Outdoor waterparks and amusement parks with capacity limits; and
  • Fairs and rural exhibitions with capacity limits.

Step Three

Ontario is anticipated to enter Step Three at least 21 days following the beginning of Step Two, provided that at least 70% to 80% of adults have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 25% of adults have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. A decision to move from Step Two to Step Three will also depend on the key public health indicators noted above.

During Step Three, the following activities will be permitted:

  • Outdoor gatherings with larger capacity limits;
  • Indoor gatherings with larger capacity limits and other restrictions;
  • Indoor dining with capacity limits;
  • Indoor sports and recreational fitness facilities with capacity limits;
  • Indoor meeting and event spaces with capacity limits;
  • Essential and non-essential retail capacity expanded;
  • Personal care services with capacity expanded and other restrictions;
  • Indoor cinemas and performing arts facilities with capacity limits;
  • Indoor and outdoor religious services, rites or ceremony gatherings with capacity limited to permit 2 metres' physical distancing;
  • Indoor museums and art galleries with capacity limits;
  • Indoor zoos, aquariums, waterparks and amusement parks with capacity limits;
  • Casinos and bingo halls with capacity limits; and
  • Other outdoor activities from Step Two permitted to operate indoors.

Gowling WLG focus

The province's announcement indicates that it will be moving away from the colour-coded COVID-19 response framework, which does not include references to vaccination rates and key vaccination thresholds. 

Although movement between the three "Steps" on the Roadmap to Reopen will necessarily depend on public health indicators, the province's announcement makes it clear that boosting the rate of vaccination across all public health units is its primary objective.

The province's Roadmap to Reopen builds upon other recently announced risk reduction strategies:

  • Increased supply of vaccines: the provincial government continues to accelerate supply of COVID-19 vaccines throughout the province.
  • 3 days of paid sick leave: The province has introduce the Worker Income Protection Benefit ("WIPB") under the Employment Standards Act, 2000. If an employee meets the WIPB eligibility criteria, they can be provided with up to three days of paid time (up to $200 per day) for specified reasons, including getting vaccinated.  Eligible employers will be reimbursed for providing employees with three days of paid time under the WIPB.
  • Increasing access to private sector rapid antigen screening: Rapid antigen screening kits are being provided to eligible private sector businesses at no charge via Chambers of Commerce located throughout the province.  The province has also announced the elimination of certain administrative hurdles associated with deploying private sector Rapid Antigen Screening, including the requirement to report "preliminary positive" test results to the local public health unit.

As the third wave continues to unfold, our Essential Services Task Force continues to track strategies that can help your business reopen, or remain open. Please stay tuned to our COVID-19 Insights for further details. If you have any questions about these orders, the members of Gowling WLG's Employment, Labour & Equalities Group would be happy to discuss key concerns and the possible implications on your business.


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