When the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors open their respective seasons later this month, they will play in front of a full-capacity crowd at Scotiabank Arena for the first time since the pandemic began.
The Downtown Sports and Entertainment Center is among select indoor and outdoor facilities in Ontario that will be allowed to operate at full capacity beginning Saturday, October 9 at 12:01 a.m.
The Ontario government announced Friday afternoon it is “cautiously lifting” capacity restrictions in several settings requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination. They include spectator areas of sports and recreational facilities, cinemas, theaters, concert arenas, horse and car racing tracks, and film and television productions with studio audiences.
Meeting and event spaces will also be allowed to operate at 100%, but will still have to limit capacity to the number that can maintain physical distancing.
The changes also apply to some outdoor settings that have a capacity below 20,000.
In a press release, Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said capacity limits at these facilities are being lifted because “public health and health care indicators continue to evolve in the right direction, and we are able to lift additional restrictions.
Despite stable COVID-19 indicators, Moore urged Ontarians to remain cautious, saying “now is not the time to let our guard down.”
“We must all continue to do our part and continue to strictly follow the measures that remain in place and get as many people vaccinated as possible, especially as we enter the holiday season,” he said. .
The province said masking, testing and information gathering to support contact tracing will continue in these settings, while physical distancing will not be required with some exceptions.
The province added that there have been limited outbreaks associated with these settings.
“As we continue to see more Ontarians roll up their sleeves with more than 22 million doses administered, our government is cautiously lifting capacity limits in some settings where we know vaccine evidence requirements offer an extra layer of protection for Ontarians,” said Health Minister Christine. Elliott said in a statement.
“The fight against COVID-19 is not over and we must all remain vigilant by continuing to follow the public health measures that we know work and protect us and by receiving your first or second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 19 if you haven’t already. so.”
The announcement comes ahead of the 2021-2022 NBA and NHL seasons. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has confirmed to CP24 that beginning with the Leafs’ home opener on Oct. 13 against the Montreal Canadiens, all of their events at Scotiabank Arena will be at full capacity.
Indoor sports venues in Ontario were previously only allowed a maximum of 10,000 people or 50% capacity, whichever is lower.
In a statement, Michael Friisdahl, president and chief executive of MLSE, said his organization was “delighted” with the announcement.
“We are grateful to all levels of government for their partnership in this process and we recognize that there will still be a lot of work to do together to ensure the safest possible environment for each event participant and our community. . Today, however, is an exciting day for our teams, our fans and our community and we look forward to a safe and enjoyable season,” he said.
The Toronto Raptors’ home opener is Oct. 20 against the Washington Wizards.
The Ontario Hockey League, whose season began Thursday, also welcomed the announcement.
“We are grateful for the continued work and leadership of our government and public health officials led by Premier Doug Ford, Sports Minister Lisa MacLeod and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore,” said the Commissioner of OHL, David Branch, in a statement.
“We are very pleased to welcome back the OHL fans for what is sure to be an excellent season.
Cineplex said in a statement that they were reviewing the “exciting” announcement and what it would mean for moviegoers across the province.
“In the meantime, we will continue to focus on the health and safety of our employees and our guests. We are confident in our health and safety approach and track record, noting that we have welcomed millions of moviegoers during the pandemic, and we have had no cases of transmission traced back to any of our cinemas,” said Cineplex.
While players in the sports and entertainment industry are pleased with the news, restaurant and bar owners are demanding answers on why they were barred from welcoming more customers.
Many had already expressed frustration last month when the province approved increased capacity at these facilities.
Under Stage 3, restaurants and bars are allowed to eat indoors and outdoors with capacity limits that allow for physical distancing.
Celina Blanchard, the owner of Lambretta Pizzeria, told CP24 on Friday afternoon that, like sports venues, restaurants require customers to provide proof of vaccinations before they can dine indoors.
“If everyone is vaccinated and we allow people to enter the restaurant with their proof of vaccination, then why aren’t we allowed to open it to more people? I don’t understand that. It seems to be a double standard here,” Blanchard said.
“Why do you treat restaurants differently than sports venues? I just want an answer. I don’t understand the reason for that at all.”
Restaurants Canada said it was disappointed that the restaurant industry that has suffered the longest closures and tightest restrictions was left out of Friday’s announcement.
“We have borne the expense of PPE and safety protocols as well as the recent introduction of the vaccine passport system despite historical revenue losses. The industry has done everything we were asked to do, and yet we continue to be singled out,” Todd Barley, president and CEO of the organization, said in a statement.
“Restaurants Canada is calling on the government to immediately lift all other restrictions on the industry and provide additional support to recognize the cost of implementing the vaccine passport program.”
Proof of vaccination to be required at weddings, funerals at meetings, event spaces
The Ontario government has also announced that proof of vaccination or medical exemption will be required to attend wedding events, funeral services held in a meeting or event hall.
The province said proof of a negative antigen test will no longer be allowed as an alternative in these settings.
It comes into force on October 13 at 12:01 a.m.