TORONTO – The Ontario government has declared a second provincial emergency and has imposed a stay-at-home-order as well as tighter restrictions in the current province-wide lockdown.
It cites the “threat of the collapse of the province’s hospital system” and “alarming risks posed to long-term care homes as a result of high COVID-19 transmission rates.”
Provincial modelling shows growth in COVID-19 cases has accelerated, leading to increased hospitalization rates and ICU occupancy. COVID-19 patients now over 400 ICU beds. That number is projected grow to 1,000 beds by early February which has the potential to overwhelm Ontario’s hospitals. The number of COVID-19-related deaths continues to rise and is expected to double from 50 to 100 deaths per day between now and the end of February.
A news release from the Premier’s Office said “mobility and contacts between people have not decreased with the current restrictions. A new variant of COVID-19 emerged in November. If community transmission of this variant occurs, Ontario could experience much higher case counts, ICU occupancy and mortality.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said, “The latest modelling data shows that Ontario is in a crisis and, with the current trends, our hospital ICUs will be overwhelmed in a few short weeks with unthinkable consequences.”
Effective Thursday at 12:01 a.m., the government is issuing a stay-at-home order requiring everyone to remain at home with exceptions for essential purposes, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services, for exercise, or for essential work.
The order and other new and existing public health restrictions are aimed at limiting people’s mobility and reducing the number of daily contacts with those outside an immediate household.
All businesses must also ensure that any employee who can work from home, does work from home.
Additional Public Health Restrictions
The government is also will enacting the following additional public health measures:
- Outdoor organized public gatherings and social gatherings are further restricted to a limit of five people with limited exceptions. This is consistent with the rules during the lockdown during the first wave of COVID-19 in spring 2020 and will allow individuals and families to enjoy time outdoors safely.
- Individuals are required to wear a mask or face covering in the indoor areas of businesses or organizations that are open. Wearing a mask or face covering is now recommended outdoors when you can’t physically distance more than two metres (six feet).
- All non-essential retail stores, including hardware stores, alcohol retailers, and those offering curbside pickup or delivery, must open no earlier than 7 a.m. and close no later than 8 p.m. The restricted hours of operation do not apply to stores that primarily sell food, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores, and restaurants for takeout or delivery.
- Non-essential construction is further restricted, including below-grade construction, exempting survey.
These measures will come into effect between Tuesday January 12, 2021 and Thursday, January 14, 2021, including the provincial declaration of emergency under the EMCPA.
“Despite our best efforts, COVID-19 is continuing to spread in our communities, our hospitals, our long-term care homes, and our workplaces. We are continuing to see concerning trends across the province, including a tragic number of deaths,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “We have made great strides in vaccinating tens of thousands of Ontarians, and we can’t let these efforts go to waste. Urgent action is required to break this deadly trend of transmission, ensure people stay home, and save lives.”
To help quickly identify and isolate cases of COVID-19 in workplaces and service providers permitted to remain open such as long-term care homes and schools, the province will provide up to 300,000 COVID-19 tests per week to support key sectors such as manufacturing, warehousing, supply chain and food processing, as well as additional tests for schools and long-term care homes.
The volume of rapid tests would support antigen screening for up to 150,000 workers per week over the next four to five months in Ontario’s most critical workplaces.
The province is expecting to receive 12 million Panbio tests from the federal government over the next several months and continues to pursue opportunities to purchase additional rapid tests.
“The trends in key public health indicators are continuing to deteriorate, and further action is urgently required to save lives,” said Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health. “By strictly adhering to all public health and workplace safety measures, we can reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and keep our loved ones and our communities safe. It will take the collective efforts of us all to defeat this virus.”
The government knows that in order to keep Ontarians safe, it is important that they are not forced to leave their homes during the new state of emergency. Ontario is exploring all options available to put a temporary residential evictions moratorium in place, and will have more to say in the coming days.
The additional public health restrictions introduced expand on the existing measures put in place to keep Ontarians safe and healthy.
New Enforcement Measures
Under the declaration of a provincial emergency, the province will provide authority to all enforcement and provincial offences officers, including the Ontario Provincial Police, local police forces, bylaw officers, and provincial workplace inspectors to issue tickets to individuals who do not comply with the stay-at-home-order, or those not wearing a mask or face covering indoors as well as retail operators and companies who do not enforce. Those who decide not to abide by orders will be subject to set fines and/or prosecution.
In addition, all enforcement personnel will have the authority to temporarily close a premise and disperse individuals who are in contravention of an order and will be able to disperse people who are gathering, regardless whether a premise has been closed or remains open such as a park or house.
“Extraordinary action is needed to protect the health and safety of Ontarians as we deal with this growing crisis,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones. “Our government is providing police and bylaw officers with the tools, and the authority, they need to enforce these critical restrictions and protect public health.”
Schools and Child Care Centres
Based on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, schools in the following public health units will not return to in-person instruction until February 10, 2021:
- Peel Region
By Jan. 20, 2021, the Chief Medical Officer of Health will advise the Ministry of Education on which public health units will be permitted to resume in-person instruction. Before- and after-school programs can be offered when in-person instruction resumes. Schools in northern PHUs will continue to remain open.
The following new health and safety measures will be put in place for in-person learning:
- Masking for Grade 1-3 and requirements for mask wearing outdoors;
- Enhanced screening protocols; and
- Expanded targeted testing.
The government will also implement new health and safety measures in Ontario child care settings, such as enhanced screening to align with school requirements, voluntary participation in targeted testing and additional infection prevention and control measures to align with schools. The enhancements are in addition to the existing health and safety measures already being implemented in child care settings across the province.
Child care centres for non-school aged children will remain open, and emergency child care for school-aged children will end in approved regions on Jan. 22 as these elementary schools return to in-person learning. During this extended period of online learning, in areas where in-person elementary learning is suspended, emergency child care will continue for eligible families in regions subject to school closures.
The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development is taking additional steps to protect workers with the launch of the “Stay Safe All Day” campaign, focusing workplace inspections in areas of high transmission, including break rooms, and providing new educational materials to employers to promote safe behaviour before, during and after work.