Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Canada’s largest province will drop many of its pandemic-fighting measures next month as cases and hospitalizations decline.  

Proof-of-vaccination requirements and capacity limits in indoor public settings are among the measures that will be dropped as of March 1 if the health-system continues to improve, Ford said Monday. Masking requirements will remain in place, the province said.

“Given how well Ontario has done in the Omicron wave, we are able to fast-track our reopening plan,” Ford said in a statement. “This is great news and a sign of just how far we’ve come together in our fight against the virus. While we aren’t out of the woods just yet, we are moving in the right direction.”

Ontario reported 1,540 people in the hospital due to COVID-19 as of Sunday, compared with counts of more than 4,000 at points last month. There were 2,265 new cases in the province on Sunday, down from a peak of 18,445 on Jan. 1. 

The move to end the measures comes against a backdrop of protests, initially against COVID-19 vaccine mandates, that have spread across Canada and hit Ontario especially hard. Demonstrations have shut down parts of Canada’s capital city of Ottawa for more than two weeks, and protesters had blockaded a bridge that serves as the country’s largest trade artery with the U.S. for about a week through yesterday.

Ford said the plan to ease restrictions was in place “long before the protests were out there” and called the continuing demonstrations “unacceptable.”

“I understand it’s frustrating for everyone,” Ford said in response to reporters’ questions. “But when you start occupying borders, international trade corridors, it’s game over. There’s zero tolerance for that.”

The province also is relaxing some measures starting on Thursday. Those include increasing social-gathering limits to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors, and removing capacity limits in restaurants, sports facilities, cinemas and other places that require proof of vaccination. Eligibility for booster shots will be opened to youth 12 to 17 years old.

Vaccine mandates for staff in workplaces such as long-term care facilities and hospitals will remain in place to “secure areas for our most vulnerable,” Ford said. 

Mask mandates will be reviewed in light of hospitalizations, intensive-care unit availability, test-positivity levels and test availability, Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer, said in response to reporters’ questions. Decisions on any further relaxation of restrictions may be made in mid-March once the province has reviewed the data from the earlier rounds of easing, he said.