Ontario ramped up plans to drop a raft of COVID-19 restrictions, including the province's vaccine certificate system, while Alberta schools opened Monday without mask mandates for children.

Saskatchewan residents also started the day with relaxed measures as the province lifted its proof of vaccine or a negative test requirement to enter most businesses as of midnight.

In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford said in a news conference that vaccine passports will end March 1, but masking requirements will remain for now.

Ford also announced that restrictions meant to lift next Monday will instead lift this Thursday, a move he insisted is not the result of pressure from anti-vaccine mandate protesters who have occupied Ottawa and Windsor over the last several days.

In Alberta, meanwhile, schoolchildren are no longer required to wear masks as of Monday, and children 12 and younger don't have to wear masks in any setting.

The move has sparked criticism from some who say COVID-19 community transmission, and the threat of the Omicron variant, have not yet subsided significantly.

The Alberta Teachers' Association has said it is exploring legal options while some students planned to walk out of class Monday afternoon to protest at the legislature in support of teachers and health-care workers.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said in a letter posted to her Twitter account Feb. 8 that fewer schools have had to shift to at-home learning over the last few weeks due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Ford said Ontario's public health indicators have also been improving, adding that Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore presented a plan to lift COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine certificates before protesters began occupying downtown Ottawa more than two weeks ago.

"Today's announcement is not because of what's happening in Ottawa or Windsor, but despite it," he said.

Social gathering limits will increase to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors in the province on Thursday, while capacity limits will be removed in restaurants, bars, gyms and movie theatres. Capacity at businesses including grocery stores, pharmacies and retail stores will be set at the number of people who can maintain a distance of two metres.

Capacity limits will be lifted in all remaining indoor public settings on March 1, while proof-of-vaccination requirements will end for all settings, except for staff in long-term care homes, Ford said.

In Saskatchewan, two main health orders remained in place Monday while the province nixed its passport system. Requirements for people to wear masks in indoor public places and to self-isolate when they test positive for COVID-19 are expected to lift at the end of the month.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab has said the province has reached its peak of the Omicron wave, but he expects hospitalizations will continue rising for the next week before tapering off.

Premier Scott Moe has said Saskatchewan's vaccine requirement policy helped increase vaccination rates, but suggested its costs now outweigh its benefits.

Ontario also announced Monday that youth aged 12 to 17 can book booster doses of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Friday — guidance that has not yet been mirrored by Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

In an update released last month, NACI recommended boosters only for 12- to 17-year-olds "who may be at higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease due to biological risk factors, social risk factors and/or experience systemic barriers to accessing health care."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 14, 2022.

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