The Ontario government has announced it is repealing its mask mandate for most settings on March 21, just as the province’s children return to school after spring break.

The move comes as Ontario continues to shed pandemic restrictions, including the removal of its vaccine passport system on March 1.

“The majority of public health and workplace safety measures have now been lifted, and key public health indicators continue to improve or remain stable,” said Ontario chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore in a statement on Wednesday. “As we continue on this path, we are able to take a more balanced and long-term approach to Ontario’s pandemic response.”

Moore said that masks would not be required in most places except for public transit, health care settings, long-term care homes and congregate care facilities. 

Moore added that people should expect COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations to increase with the easing of the mask mandate but Ontario has the tools to manage COVID-19 going forward. 

He thanked Ontarians for “their ongoing resilience and commitment to community as we navigated this global pandemic together.”

“While this does not signal that COVID-19 has disappeared or that the pandemic is over, it does mean that we have come to a place where we know what we need to do to manage this virus and to keep each other safe,” he said. 

The government’s announcement was criticized by opposition politicians as well as by organizations who believe the mask mandate should be kept in place.

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath said that Ontario premier Doug Ford is bowing to political pressure by ending the mask mandate. 

“Lifting mask mandates should be science-based, not political,” said Horwath in a tweet. “For just a little longer, let’s mask up for safety.”

The Children’s Health Coalition also requested that Ford continue to require masks in schools for two weeks following March break. 

“Masks remain an important layer of protection as the pandemic continues and may be needed in communities with low vaccination rates and where there is a surge in cases,” said the Children’s Health Coalition in a letter. “Masks also protect those most vulnerable, including high-risk, immunocompromised and fragile children.” 

While Ontario will repeal their mask mandate in two weeks, Alberta ended theirs on March 1, requiring them only in settings such as on public transit, health care facilities and long-term care homes. 

Saskatchewan also stopped their mask mandate on Feb. 28, although businesses, workplaces and event organizers may continue to request that people wear them.