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People eat a meal at Venice restaurant in Montreal, on Jan. 31.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Canada’s two largest provinces went ahead with previously announced plans to remove some COVID-19 restrictions on Monday, after a wave of hospitalizations caused by the more transmissible Omicron variant appeared to be subsiding.

Ontario’s first stage of reopening took effect with restaurants, bars, gyms and cinemas allowed to operate again, but with 50-per-cent capacity limits.

Private indoor gatherings are now allowed 10 people, up from five, while museums, waterparks, casinos and places of worship can open with 50-per-cent capacity limits. Youth sports are allowed to resume with capacity limits, and the Greater Toronto Hockey League is set to allow games again on Feb. 5.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford called the reopening “the first step in returning to normal.”

Quebec, which imposed a stricter lockdown, has taken a more gradual approach. While also reopening indoor dining in restaurants at 50-per-cent capacity, private indoor gatherings are allowed but limited to a maximum of two households, or four people. Restaurants can seat a maximum of four people per table, or members of two households. But they must stop serving alcohol at 11 p.m. and shut their doors by midnight. Ski resorts can now reopen at half capacity with at least one metre between tables. Bars remain closed.

The province has promised more easing of public-health measures next week, including the reopening of theatres and cinemas at 50-per-cent capacity.

In the east, New Brunswick, where students resumed in-class learning on Monday, allowed restaurants, gyms and hair salons to reopen over the weekend, as the province entered a lower level of restrictions two days earlier than planned. Prince Edward Island also reopened schools this week, and allowed shops, casinos, museums and libraries to take in larger numbers of people, or up to 50 per cent of their capacity.

Nova Scotia, meanwhile, has extended its current COVID-19 restrictions until Feb. 14, as the province tries to reduce hospitalizations. Those rules have kept hockey rinks and theatres mostly empty and reduced faith gatherings to 25 per cent of a venue’s capacity to a maximum of 50 people. In Newfoundland and Labrador, where all travellers entering the province must self-isolate for at least five days, officials say they’ll revisit the current level of restrictions at the end of the week.

Ontario now requires a scannable QR code for proof of COVID-19 vaccination. Here’s what you need to know

Calling the Ottawa protests ‘peaceful’ plays down non-violent dangers, critics say

In the West, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe on Monday repeated his pledge – made on the weekend in a letter supporting the trucker convoy protest that descended on Ottawa – to end the province’s requirements for patrons to show proof of vaccination or a negative test for indoor dining and liquor stores. The province is already an outlier for pandemic rules.

Mr. Moe said the end of the vaccine-pass rules would come “very soon,” but provided few details. He said a decision had not been made on the province’s mask mandate. Both public-health orders have been extended to Feb. 28, but Mr. Moe told reporters the proof-of-vaccination regime could be pulled down before then. He said his province’s numbers suggest vaccines are not effective against the transmission of Omicron, while still working well against severe outcomes.

B.C. also signalled plans in recent weeks to remove some public-health measures as the Omicron wave passes. B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer, Bonnie Henry, said last week that restrictions could start being phased out on Feb. 21. Health orders on concerts and sports events are set to expire Feb. 16.

In Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney has previously said his province’s restrictions could be lifted by the end of March. On Monday, his Health Minister, Jason Copping, said hospitalization numbers in his province “may have” plateaued over the weekend, although hospitals in Calgary and Edmonton remain over capacity.

“We’re going to be driven by the numbers,” Mr. Copping said when asked if Alberta would follow other provinces and start lifting rules. “This is an extremely challenging time right now for hospitals.”

Meanwhile, Ontario’s Premier faced criticism for failing to speak out over the weekend about the Ottawa protests, where some protesters flew Nazi or other white-supremacist flags, decorated a Terry Fox statue with anti-vaccine messages, and urinated and danced on the war memorial. Mr. Ford had told a talk radio station last week that he supported the truckers but urged everyone to get vaccinated.

On Monday, Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca singled out Mr. Ford for his silence, calling the protesters an “angry mob.” Mr. Ford’s office issued a statement saying he was “extremely disturbed” to “see some individuals desecrate our most sacred monuments and wave swastikas and other symbols of hate and intolerance this weekend. That has no place in Ontario or Canada. Not now. Not ever.”

Lisa MacLeod, an Ottawa MPP and Mr. Ford’s Minister of Tourism, urged the protesters to leave on Twitter: “The residents and families of Ottawa need to return to work and school. To the protestors remaining – you’ve been heard – please go home.”

For his part, Mr. Moe said the acts of vandalism or harassment in Ottawa were “despicable” and those behind them should be held accountable by law enforcement, adding that these actions detract from the protesters’ message against vaccine mandates.

Asked about the Ottawa protesters, B.C. Premier John Horgan said in a statement that he was focused on health care workers, the people who follow public-health guidance and “the 90 per cent of truckers who got vaccinated and continue to go to work and help transport essential goods from coast-to-coast-to-coast.”

With reports from Eric Andrew-Gee in Montreal, Greg Mercer in Saint John, Ian Bailey in Ottawa and James Keller in Calgary

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