Ontario is putting a pause on social circles, asking people across the entire province to now only come in close contact with those inside their household as COVID-19 cases spike to unprecedented levels.
Premier Doug Ford made the announcement on Friday, while also declaring new restrictions for certain businesses in three COVID-19 hotspots.
As of 12:01 a.m. Saturday, restaurants, bars and nightclubs in Ottawa and Peel Region must limit capacity to 100. Toronto Public Health has already decided to limit capacity to 75.
There is now a maximum of six people allowed per table and each customer’s contact information must be collected for contact tracing.
For gyms and fitness centres in the three hotspots, group exercise classes will now be limited to 10 people and the facility must limit its capacity to 50 people.
Banquet halls and event spaces must limit six people per table and have no more than 50 people in the facility at a time.
Ontario has also paused any further reopening for the next 28 days.
The government has also implemented a province-wide mandatory mask order for indoor public settings, including businesses, facilities and workplaces.
Prior to Friday's announcement, Ontario residents were allowed to create 10-person social circles, which could include those who did not live in their household.
"We're in a second wave of COVID-19 and as premier it's my duty to protect the people," Ford said on Friday. "My friends, this is serious."
Ford said limiting contact with those outside the household will be "especially important" to consider ahead of Thanksgiving.
The province said that anyone who lives alone can create a social circle with another household.
"We're just asking people, please try and keep your gatherings small, to immediate household, as much as possible," Health Minister Christine Elliott said. "But as the premier said, there a number of people who do live alone, who are experiencing isolation, we want them to be able to have connection to another group for mental health and social purposes."
Elliott said these new measures need to be taken seriously to protect the economy and schools.
"The reality is that these measures are necessary to protect the health and wellbeing of Ontarians and of course to prevent future lockdowns," she said.
While Ontario is pausing the concept of social circles, private gathering size limits for people remain at 10 indoors and 25 outdoors.
The new rules announced Friday come after Ontario reported 732 new COVID-19 cases, which is a single-day record for the province.
Assessment centres changing to appointment only
Ford also said the province will transition to appointment-based testing at COVID-19 assessment centres starting next week.
The transition will start on Tuesday in an effort to reduce the testing lineups and cut down on the processing backlog.
"Starting Oct. 4, assessment centres will not be accepting walk-ins … These changes are absolutely necessary," Ford told reporters.
Starting Tuesday, patients with COVID-19 symptoms would have to call one of the province’s 153 assessment centres and speak to a nurse practitioner before making an appointment for a swab.
The province said the changes would better prepare the assessment centres for the winter months and would eliminate any frustration from low-risk residents who have been denied a test.
With Ontario's COVID-19 processing backlog hitting an all-time high of 90,513 on Friday, the province is also trying to reduce the length of time people have to wait before receiving their results.