The Ford government is implementing an “emergency brake” across all 34 public health units starting on Saturday that will be in place for at least four weeks and force some non-essential services to close, including in-person dining and personal care services such as barbers, nail salons, and gyms.
The lockdown, similar to current restrictions under the grey zone, will see essential stores – such as groceries and pharmacies – remain open at 50 percent capacity.
Non-essential retail can operate at 25 percent capacity.
The government is asking Ontarians to limit trips outside the home to necessities such as food, medication, and other essential services, but stopped short of imposing a stay-at-home order like it did in January.
RELATED: Health experts, opposition react to 3rd provincial lockdown: ‘It is a tragic and unequivocal failure’
Some outdoor activities will be allowed such as golf, but team sports will not be permitted.
“Friends, right now we’re into a third wave of COVID-19. The variants of concern are spreading rapidly,” said Premier Doug Ford.
“This is a new pandemic. We’re now fighting a new enemy.”
Indoor organized public events and social gatherings are prohibited, and the capacity for outdoor organized public events or social gatherings will be capped to a 5-person maximum.
This excludes gatherings with members of the same household or gatherings of members of one household and one other person from another household who lives alone.
Indoor and outdoor dining will no longer be permitted as of Saturday. Takeout and delivery remain an option, however.
Capacity at weddings, funerals, and religious services, rites, or ceremonies is limited to 15 percent occupancy per room indoors, and to the number of individuals that can maintain two metres of physical distance outdoors.
Six regions are already in Grey-Lockdown, including Toronto, Peel, and Hamilton, while another 16 areas are in the Red-Control zone when it comes to provincial restrictions.
When asked about the new restrictions, Ford said early Thursday that it was a “tough decision.”
“We’ll make the tough decision but it’s the right decision. One thousand percent, it’s the right decision,” said Ford.
“We are facing a serious situation and drastic measures are required to contain the rapid spread of the virus, especially the new variants of concern. I know pulling the emergency brake will be difficult on many people across the province, but we must try and prevent more people from getting infected and overwhelming our hospitals.”
Health Minister Christine Elliott says this is not a stay-at-home order, admitting the last one had “tremendous ill effects on children and adults.”
“Implementing a province-wide emergency brake was not an easy decision to make and is not one we take lightly,” said Elliott.
“As we continue to vaccinate more Ontarians, the end is in sight, but right now these necessary measures will help to stop the spread of variants in our communities, protect capacity in our health care system, and save lives.”
The government says employers in all industries should make every effort to allow employees to work from home.
“If we don’t think this and take action, we will be in deep trouble,” the Premier continued.
Earlier this week, the president of Ontario’s Hospital Association (OHA), said hospitals reached a record high with at least 421 COVID-19 patients currently in the province’s intensive care units.
More than 150 intensive care unit doctors signed an open letter to the government on Thursday, calling for new, stricter, measures.
“The current measures and framework are not working to contain the spread of this virus,” reads the letter in part. “Even if we had unlimited ICU capacity, allowing these (variants of concern) to spread exponentially is unethical.”
Immediate restrictions beyond the current Framework are required to protect Ontarians from variant-driven Wave 3. pic.twitter.com/TmCKPlHj07
— Michael Warner (@drmwarner) April 1, 2021
The letter says doctors are seeing younger patients on ventilators and many are parents of school-aged children.
It notes people being admitted to intensive care have contracted COVID-19 at work or have followed all the rules and only gone out for groceries.
Ontario’s science advisers confirm the troubling trend, saying on Thursday that strict, stay-at-home orders are needed to control the third wave of COVID-19 in the province.
Without those measures, the Ontario Science Advisory Table said the province could see up to 6,000 new infection cases by mid-April.
The science advisory table also suggested that limiting inter-provincial movement – similar to the one that was imposed in January and expired starting in mid-February – would help brings the number of new cases down.
“Our vaccine rollout is steadily increasing, and I encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated. That is our best protection against this deadly virus,” added the Premier.
Advisers said new pandemic modelling indicates the third wave is being driven by more deadly variants.
Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chairman of the group, says infections in the short term depend on public health measures and vaccination rates.
He says the province’s vaccine rollout is not reaching the highest risk communities, which is delaying its anti-pandemic impact.
Just last week, The Ford government announced a series of modifications to its COVID-19 framework that was expected to allow the reopening of personal care services such as hair and nail salons.
Outdoor fitness classes also briefly resumed in regions under the grey zone.
Ford defended his decision at the time, saying he was “very, very concerned,” adding that “we’re loosening it up, just a little bit.”
On March 19, the province announced that restaurants operating in “Red-Control” and “Orange-Restrict” would be able to open with 50 percent capacity and a maximum of 50 and 100 people indoors.
Today's COVID situation in Ontario (and frankly in much of Canada) reflects a total and absolute abdication of responsibility for the health and wellbeing of our public.
It is a tragic and unequivocal failure, fertilized by repeated rejection of scientific evidence.
— Andrew Morris (@ASPphysician) April 1, 2021
The Premier’s change in the course shows just how much of a threat the variants of concern pose on the province’s ability to limit and control a third wave of the virus.
The Education Minister confirmed that schools will remain open across the province until further notice.
Stephen Lecce, who says “students deserve to be in class,” calls the move critical for the mental health of students.
The Ford government has faced criticism over its failure to offer supports for essential workers, particularly teachers, in the COVID-19 hot spots, including paid sick days.
Unifor called on all provinces to mandate paid time off to allow workers to get vaccinated when it is their turn to do so.
“While some good employers out there are already doing this, most are not and won’t unless [the] government forces them to just do the right thing,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President on Thursday.
Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy.
Ontario is reporting 2,557 COVID-19 cases Thursday with 23 deaths.
The seven-day average is up to 2,341 cases daily and 113 weekly per 100,000.
What’s changing under Ontario’s 4-week ‘shutdown’
Here are some of the changes set to take effect in all 34 of the province’s public health units:
- Indoor public events and social gatherings are prohibited, except for those in the same household. People who live alone can be in close contact with one other household.
- Outdoor public events and social gatherings are limited to five people, except for those in the same household. People who live alone can be in close contact with one other household.
- Supermarkets, grocery stores, and other stores that primarily sell food, as well as pharmacies, are limited to 50 percent capacity.
- All other retail stores, including big-box stores, are limited to 25 percent capacity.
- Indoor and outdoor dining is barred at restaurants, which can only provide takeout, delivery, and drive-through service.
- Personal care services are prohibited, and indoor or outdoor fitness/sports facilities such as gyms are closed, with very limited exceptions.
- Day camps are closed.
- Weddings, funerals, religious services, or ceremonies are capped at 15 percent capacity per room indoors, and to the number of people who can maintain two metres of distance outdoors.
- This does not include receptions linked to those events, which must abide by the restrictions on social gatherings.