COVID-19 Update: New Restriction System Unveiled in Ontario

Food businesses in some COVID-19 hotspots will be permitted to open their dining rooms this weekend.  
COVID-19 Update: New Restriction System Unveiled in Ontario
November 3, 2020

In an announcement today, Ontario Premier Doug Ford confirmed that the province would be implementing a colour-coded tiered system for COVID-19 restrictions. In this new system, all Ontario public health units will be placed into a colour category that indicates the level of restrictions that are in place in that unit. The Ontario government has released a document, The COVID-19 Response Framework: Keeping Ontario Safe and Open, which explains how the framework works and what changes Ontarians can expect moving forward. This is particularly relevant for food businesses, especially those in Toronto, Peel Region, York Region and Ottawa, which have been facing significant challenges since being ordered to stop indoor dining earlier this month.

How the system works

The Ontario government has stated that its priorities for implementing this new framework are to limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect vulnerable populations while avoiding closures as much as possible. The framework is based on the notion that it is better to act earlier and implement measures quickly in order to prevent closures, rather than taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach which leads to increased cases and business closures to contain the spread.

Colour codes

The new colour-coded system is broken down as follows:

GREEN - Prevent (Standard measures in place)
YELLOW - Protect (Strengthened measures in place)
ORANGE - Restrict (Intermediate measures in place)
RED - Control (Stringent measures in place)
GREY - Lockdown (Maximum measures in place)

Each of these colours involves a list of restrictions and measures that are put in place for those public health units placed in that colour category. Public health units will move throughout the different colour categories based on specific indicators which will be assessed based on the previous two weeks of information. If there is a rapidly worsening trend, steps will be taken to apply measures and restrictions sooner than two weeks. Ultimately, the government will be required to take overall risk assessment into consideration when making decisions about moving public health units into colour categories.

What it means for food businesses

The new framework contains proposals for what restrictions and measures will be implemented in each colour category for restaurants, bars and food and drink establishments. Based on which category a public health unit is placed in, there will be specific requirements and measures that food businesses must adhere to.

The current proposal is broken down as follows:


  • Customers must be seated with a minimum of 2 metres between tables
  • Dancing, singing and performing music is permitted, with restrictions
  • Karaoke permitted, with restrictions (including no private rooms)
  • Contact info is required (one per group)
  • Buffet-style service prohibited
  • Night clubs only permitted to operate as restaurants or bar
  • Line-ups/patrons congregating outside venues are to be managed by the venue (2-metre distance and face covering required)
  • Face coverings are required except when eating or drinking only
  • Eye protection is required where customers without face coverings are within 2 metres of workers


All measures from previous levels are required as well as:

  • Limited operating hours (establishments must close at midnight)
  • Liquor sold or served only between 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
  • No consumption of liquor is permitted between 12 a.m. to 9 a.m.
  • Require contact information for all seated customers
  • Maximum of 6 people may be seated together
  • Limit volume of music (e.g. to be no louder than the volume of a normal conversation)
  • Safety plan available upon request


All measures from previous levels are required as well as:

  • 50-person indoor capacity limit
  • Limited operating hours (establishments close at 10 p.m.)
  • Liquor sold or served only between 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • No consumption of liquor between 10 p.m. and 9 a.m.
  • Require screening of customers (e.g. questionnaire)
  • Maximum of 4 people may be seated together


All measures from previous levels are required as well as:

  • 10-person indoor capacity limit
  • Outdoor dining, take-out, drive-through, and delivery permitted
  • Dancing, singing and the live performance of brass or wind instruments are prohibited

Changes coming this weekend

The new colour-coded system means that the food businesses currently in a modified Stage 2 (Toronto, Peel Region, York Region and Ottawa) will be able to reopen soon. Peel Region, York Region and Ottawa will be placed in the Orange category (‘Restrict’) as of 12:01 am on Saturday, November 7, which means they can officially reopen for indoor dining at that time.

As for Toronto, Mayor John Tory has asked for more time before moving Toronto into a colour category. Toronto will remain in a modified Stage 2 for another week.

While it is welcomed news for food businesses in these COVID-19 hotspots, it is essential that food businesses become familiar with what is expected of them in each of the different colour categories. Food businesses reopening their dining rooms this weekend after a 28-day closure must heed to the new ‘Orange’ restrictions, including limiting capacity to 50 people, closing at 10 p.m., screening customers, not serving alcohol past 9 p.m. and not allowing groups of more than four people.