A state of emergency and new stay-at-home order has taken effect in Ontario in yet another effort to control the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The order was announced following criticism that the province is not doing enough to stop the spread of the virus.
The Ford government says it implemented the changes in response to “the rapid increase in COVID-19 transmission, the threat on the province’s hospital system capacity, and the increasing risks posed to the public by COVID-19 variants.”
The order took effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday morning.
This means that everyone must stay at home except for essential purposes, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services (including getting vaccinated), for exercise close to home and with the people you live with, or for work that cannot be done remotely.
Premier Doug Ford says he waited to enforce these stringent restrictions as soon as he saw ICU capacity reach critical levels.
“The COVID-19 situation is at a critical stage and we must act quickly and decisively to stay ahead of these deadly new variants,” said Premier Doug Ford.
“By imposing these strict new measures we will keep people safe while allowing our vaccination program to reach more people, starting with our high-risk population and identified hot spots. Although this is difficult, I urge everyone to follow these public health measures and together we will defeat this deadly virus.”
In addition to the provincewide stay-at-home order, the closure of non-essential retail and new restrictions for big box stores has been introduced by the government.
Discount and big box stores are limited strictly to in-person retail for sales of groceries, household cleaning supplies, pharmacy items (including pharmaceutical, health care, and personal care items, and pet care supplies) only.
In an effort to curb rising COVID-19 cases and ICU admissions, non-essential retail stores, such as malls, will be restricted to curbside pickup only.
The majority of non-essential retailers will only be allowed to operate for curbside pick-up and delivery between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m., with the delivery of goods to patrons permitted between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.
Shopping Malls and Big Box Stores:
- Curbside pick-up and delivery with an appointment with one single designated location inside the shopping mall, and any number of designated locations outside the shopping mall, along with other restrictions.
- Discount and big box stores in-person retail sales to groceries, household cleaning supplies, pharmacy items (pharmaceutical, health care, and personal care items, and pet care supplies) only.
- Outdoor garden centres and plant nurseries, and indoor greenhouses that engage in sales to the public, to operate with a 25 percent capacity limit and a restriction on hours of operation.
Permitting the following stores to operate for in-person retail by appointment only and subject to a 25 percent capacity limit and restricting allowable hours of operation to 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.:
- Safety supply stores;
- Businesses that primarily sell, rent or repair assistive devices, aids or supplies, mobility devices, aids or supplies or medical devices, aids or supplies
- Rental and leasing services including automobile, commercial and light industrial machinery and equipment rental;
- Optical stores that sell prescription eyewear to the public;
- Businesses that sell motor vehicles, boats, and other watercraft;
- Vehicle and equipment repair and essential maintenance and vehicle and equipment rental services;
- Retail stores operated by a telecommunications provider or service, which may only permit members of the public to enter the premises to purchase a cellphone or for repairs or technical support.
Ontario’s previous stay-at-home order went into effect on January 14 and was lifted nearly two months later on March 8.
The Ford government says schools and child care will remain open for in-person care and learning in public health regions where it is permitted, with strict safety measures in place.
However, the province says education workers who provide direct daily support to students with special education needs across the province, and all education workers in high-risk neighbourhoods in Toronto and Peel will be immediately eligible for a vaccine.
The Premier says mobile teams are being arranged to administer vaccines in high-risk congregate settings, residential buildings, faith-based locations, and locations occupied by large employers in hot spot neighbourhoods to individuals aged 18-and-up.
As vaccine supply allows, the province says its vaccine eligibility will expand to high-risk neighbourhoods in other hot spot regions, including York, Ottawa, Hamilton, Halton, and Durham.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce says that enhanced safety measures will be put in place to protect students and staff once they return from the April break.
“We’re going to be encouraging outdoor education. More outdoor learning where it is possible this Spring and Summer. We know it has helped us in the Fall,” said Lecce.
“We’re going to be strongly urging as much education, experiential outside in our parks, in our playgrounds to make this learning experience possible but safe.”
Sticking with vaccinations, the province says people living in regions with the highest rates of transmission will be prioritized to receive a vaccine, starting with the most at-risk in the Peel and Toronto.
The Premier says he anticipates that 40 percent of all Ontarian adults will be vaccinated in the next four weeks as supply ramps up.
“We will limit mobility, limit the spread, keep people safe, and allow more time to deliver vaccines,” said Ford.
“Be assured, vaccines remain our best hope to defeat this virus.”
The government will also extend the booking for COVID-19 vaccination appointments to more age groups through its provincial booking system, specifically for public health regions with high-risk communities starting Friday.
Booking eligibility across Ontario will be extended to include people aged 50-plus for COVID-19 vaccination appointments at mass immunization clinics in high-risk areas as identified by postal code, using the provincial booking system.
The decision comes after medical officers of health in Toronto, Peel and Ottawa called on the government to ramp up public health measures, including a stay-at-home order, saying the recently imposed shutdown does not go far enough to curb the surge of COVID-19 cases in the province.
Dr. Eileen da Villa, Dr. Lawrence Loh, and Dr. Vera Etches sent a letter to Dr. David Williams, the province’s top doctor on Tuesday, saying the move was “necessary to prevent and mitigate large scale morbidity and mortality and irreparable strain on the health-care system.”
Ontario health officials have openly criticized the Ford government’s handling of pandemic restrictions, particularly of late, as ICU admissions rapidly increase along with daily COVID-19 cases disproportionately affecting younger aged residents.
We are losing a #COVID ICU patient under age 50 every 2.8 days.
Stay-at-home will not address the root causes of variant-driven Wave 3 taking down younger people. pic.twitter.com/FxgZkfSOH0
— Michael Warner (@drmwarner) April 7, 2021
Earlier Tuesday, Premier Ford warned of increased restrictions in the COVID-19 hotspots of Toronto, Peel, and York Regions. He also expressed frustration at seeing GTA malls, such as Yorkdale, flooded with people this past weekend.
“Going to the malls is not essential,” he said, despite current public health measures permitting them to remain open.
“It was absolutely jam-packed and I truly was hoping that people wouldn’t be going in there at the volume that we saw.”
Workplace inspections are also expected to ramp up with an increase of enforcement at essential businesses in regional hot zones.
There have been 19,500 COVID-related workplace inspections and investigations in Ontario since the start of the new year.
Three weeks ago, the Ford government allowed restaurants in “Grey-Lockdown” to open for outdoor dining and introduced a loosening of restrictions for indoor dining across multiple levels of its framework.
At the time, the province said 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, which went into effect on March 22.
Only 10 days later, the Ford government implemented an “emergency brake” across all 34 public health units that will be in place for at least four weeks that forced non-essential services to close, including in-person dining and personal care services, such as barbers, nail salons, and gyms.
When asked about the new restrictions, Ford said on April 1 that it was a “tough decision.”
During a media briefing, Dr. Loh said Wednesday the variants of concerns have “won this round” in the province.
“Even if we vaccinated everyone in Peel today, we would still not see changes in our trends for over four weeks,” he said.
“That means the second thing that we all need to do right now is to stay home as much as possible.”
Ontario’s health minister said Wednesday that Ontario hit a new record high number for single-day vaccinations with 104,382 doses administered the previous day.
“We’re getting needles into arms as quickly and safely as possible and we continue to ramp up capacity,” Minister Christine Elliott said on social media.
“Vaccines remain our best defense in the fight against (COVID-19). Please sign up when it’s your turn.”
Students at public schools in Toronto started taking classes fully online following an order from the city’s top doctor.
This comes after Peel Public Health made a similar decision, issuing Section 22.
The York Region District School Board has since requested its public health unit, or the province shut down schools and make online learning mandatory.
Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation, says there has been no communication between his union and the provincial government about moving schools to online learning.
With files from The Canadian Press