Ontario lifts mask mandates in most public spaces including schools, retail settings
TORONTO – Ontario residents were able to shop, see a movie, and take in a hockey game without wearing a mask for the first time in about a year-and-a-half as the province lifted face-covering mandates for most public spaces Monday.
Students in public schools were also able to attend class without wearing a mask, though many chose to keep wearing them.
Branav Jalan said his six-year-old daughter, who has two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, will be wearing a mask at her school in Toronto for now.
“I have seen (the) majority of the people (at school) are still wearing masks, so I think that that’s a good step,” he said. “It’s good to be back after spring break, so let’s hope that everything continues in a good sense.”
Sudhir Kesarkar said his 10-year-old son will be wearing a mask for a little while longer, but once the boy receives his second vaccine dose in a few weeks, Kesarkar will feel “absolute comfort” sending him to school without a mask.
“I’m just happy that this pandemic is ending and we can live our life freely,” he said.
Several school boards had wanted more time to keep mask mandates, but those requests were denied by Ontario’s chief medical officer of health. The Hamilton-Wentworth school board has said it still plans to keep a mask requirement until April 1.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the board was clearly listening to advice from some public health experts and a coalition of children’s hospitals urging the government to keep masks mandatory in schools for a few more weeks.
“That’s what I think that they were basing their decision on, and I have some respect for that,” she said.
Liberal House Leader John Fraser said the government has not articulated why it couldn’t keep masks mandatory in schools for a bit longer, as Nova Scotia has.
“(Boards) should be able to work with a government to do what’s needed in their local community,” he said. “We’re talking two weeks, we’re not talking a new curriculum … The government’s inflexible on this and I don’t understand why.”
Select settings such as public transit, health-care facilities, long-term care homes and congregate care settings will keep mask mandates until the end of April, but masks are no longer required in most other public spaces, including restaurants, bars, gyms, retail, cinemas, theatres, sports venues, and meeting and event spaces.
Monday marked “an important milestone” in the fight against COVID-19, Premier Doug Ford wrote on Twitter.
“Ontario’s cautious approach throughout the pandemic has allowed us to save countless lives as we emerge with one of the lowest fatality rates in North America,” he said later Monday in remarks to a Canadian American Business Council roundtable in Washington, D.C.
“From the outset of the pandemic we learned that you can’t have a healthy economy without healthy people.”
Vaughan, Ont., residents Raymond Pirnasar and Chessa Pirnasar stepped into a mall on Monday without wearing masks.
“(We’re) going in to the mall to shop for the first time being able to breathe. That’s my prerogative,” Chessa Pirnasar said, while stressing that if people don’t feel comfortable taking off their masks, then she respects their choice.
“Both of us have had three doses, so I think we feel safe.”