Ontario continues to lift its COVID-19 public health measures. As of March 21, mask mandates will no longer be in effect in most settings, including restaurants.
The dropping of mask mandates will see the province take the next step in removing restrictions after it recently ditched mandated proof of vaccination and reopened businesses at full capacity.
On March 21, as well as scrapping the required wearing of masks, the province will no longer mandate self-isolation for COVID-exposed people or symptom screening requirements in most situations.
This is part of a wider effort to end all emergency pandemic requirements by the end of April, according to the province. The province’s Reopening Ontario Act and all related emergency measures are set to expire on April 27.
However, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore said during the announcement on March 9 that removing the mask mandate “does not mean the risk is gone”.
“COVID-19 is still transmitting and masks can protect you and others around you becoming infected.” He added, though, that Ontario’s plan “aligns” with that of other Canadian provinces and is more cautious than most jurisdictions’.
Alberta had dropped its mask mandate on March 1 and Quebec ended masking in school classrooms on March 7.
Infectious disease experts sound the alarm
However, some infectious disease experts have expressed concern that the province has moved too quickly.
University Health Network infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch told CP24 that based on the current situation in Ontario, “it would still make sense to wear masks in indoor settings”.
“Instead of seeing this plummet in cases, we’re actually seeing a plateau in cases and hospitalizations here in Ontario. This is the kind of thing where you want to see a sustained downward trajectory before you start to lift this final, light-touch intervention.”
Bogoch’s colleague, Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, went further by warning that the province will “regret” this decision.
“The message being sent out with these sorts of measures being changed is that this pandemic is over, and I think that’s very dangerous and it’s premature,” Sharkawy added to CP24. “I have no idea where the confidence is coming from because all five previous waves have ended and been followed by another wave. I think we’re going to regret this in the coming weeks.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Peter Jüni, who heads Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, told CBC Radio that the decision “is not supported by science right now because it’s just too early”.