TORONTO — Customers were welcomed back to restaurants dining rooms, gyms and other indoor businesses as Ontario further rolled back public health restrictions on Friday.

Step 3 of the province’s reopening plan, which took effect just after midnight, allows fitness facilities, cinemas, museums and other venues to reopen indoors after a long shutdown aimed at limiting spread of COVID-19. Indoor restaurant dining also resumes.

In Mississauga, Ont., several patrons were seated inside Maggie’s Diner by mid-morning, in addition to others on the patio. Owner Sam Aly said the return of indoor service signalled relief after a difficult period for his business.

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Indoor dining and gyms, larger gatherings now allowed as Ontario enters Step 3 of reopening plan

“I got more customers today than I’ve gotten all month, so it looks positive,” Aly said.

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Ontario’s move to Step 3 came days earlier than scheduled thanks to positive trends in COVID-19 vaccination coverage and other public health indicators.

Aly said the early move is helpful, as restaurants had been limited to takeout and patio service under the previous step of the plan, limiting revenue especially during several rainy days in the Greater Toronto Area.

“Anything is a bonus for us right now,” he said. “Now we can hopefully stand on two feet and try to make some money and try to get out of this debt we’re in.”

Restaurant dining rooms don’t have a set capacity limit as long as people can maintain two metres of distance. Social gatherings are now limited to 25 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.

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Rules around masking and physical distancing are still in place, with some exceptions.

Gym patrons don’t need to wear masks inside when using equipment, but most of the small handful of members at one Toronto GoodLife Fitness chain were wearing masks during their workouts on Friday morning.

Manager Matt Ariganello said he expects crowds to gradually return over the next few weeks.

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Premier Doug Ford thanked Ontarians on social media for following public health orders and getting vaccinated during the pandemic.

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“I’m confident that there are only brighter days ahead,” Ford said in a prepared social media video. “Because of your efforts, we are closer than ever before to returning to normal lives.”

He asked people to support local business and continue seeking vaccinations against COVID-19.

Ontario reported 159 new COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths from the virus on Friday.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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