Boston restaurants can offer outdoor seating earlier than expected.

Mayor Marty Walsh announced Friday the program’s launch date is now March 22, more than a week earlier than originally scheduled.

Walsh had previously hinted at the change, citing the city’s growing vaccination numbers and mostly downward-trending COVID-19 metrics. In a press release, the administration attributed the earlier start to the weather forecast.

“Outdoor dining was one of the bright spots last summer and fall, and we’ve seen the benefits it has had on our neighborhoods: supporting local businesses, a safe and enjoyable experience for restaurant patrons, and an added resource for Boston’s small businesses during this challenging time,” said Walsh in a statement. “I’m thrilled we are able to start this program even earlier, and I look forward to businesses and residents taking advantage of it.”

The program, launched last year to help struggling restaurants cope with pandemic business loss, is now scheduled to operate through Dec. 1.

The announcement was welcome news to Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. In an interview with GBH News, he called the program the pandemic’s “only silver lining from a restaurant perspective.”

“Certainly last year, there [were] a lot of folks that were concerned about coming back in to the four walls of a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic, and [the program] allowed them to enjoy great, restaurant quality meals outdoors in the fresh air,” Luz said. “By opening this up early, it does allow restaurants to start to get their footing back on the ground.”

The city has already approved more than 200 restaurants to host outdoor guests.