Ontario is implementing another provincewide state of emergency immediately, extending remote-only learning for select students and cracking down on retail hours as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths reach record highs.
Premier Doug Ford made the announcement from Queen’s Park this afternoon and announced the additional measures to help curb transmission of the deadly disease.
As of Thursday, at 12:01 a.m., the government is issuing a stay-at-home order for at least 28 days requiring everyone to remain at home with exceptions for essential purposes.
“Under this order, everyone is going to stay home and only go out for essential trips to pick up groceries or go to medical appointments,” Ford said.
“Cases and deaths are the highest since the start of the pandemic and community spread continues to escalate. I’m not blaming anyone, only one thing is truly at fault and that’s the virus,” he added.
The order is aimed at reducing people’s mobility and reducing the number of daily contacts people have with those outside their immediate household.
The state of emergency gives the government the power to enact new measures beyond those included in the provincewide lockdown, which began on Dec. 26, 2020.
An emergency order allows the government to close more businesses, prohibit events and gatherings and order people to stay home.
Under the order, provincial and local enforcement are permitted to issue tickets to individuals who do not comply with the stay-at-home order, or who do not wear masks indoors and to companies that do not enforce those health and safety protocols.
All enforcement personnel also have the authority to temporarily close a premise and disperse people who are in contravention of an order.
“One of the big changes with the stay-at-home order is actually allowing and empowering provincial offences officers, most commonly bylaw enforcement officers, to also issue tickets and to disperse crowds of larger than five, if they’re not in the same household,” Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said at the news conference.
This is the second emergency order issued in the province since the pandemic began last March. The last one expired on July 24, though many of the 47 emergency orders issued under it remain in effect.
Ford also announced that retailers will be subject to shorter operating hours and that outdoor gathering sizes will be reduced from 10 to five people, with limited exceptions.
Those who live alone are still allowed to spend time with another household but the government said that they prefer that people stay home as much as possible.
The government is also advising non-essential workers who are currently working at their places of employment to work from home except in circumstances “where the nature of their work requires them to be on-site at the workplace.”
As for non-essential retail stores, including hardware, alcohol and big box retailers, they will be required to close from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. in an effort to discourage late-night shopping.
These stores will be permitted to have all their aisles open, despite some critics suggesting aisles with non-essential items should be blocked off as it’s an unfair advantage to small businesses who have been forced to close to customers.
Ford said big box stores must follow the latest protocols or else he’ll “come down on them like an 800-pound gorilla.”
“If they aren’t following the protocols and following the guidelines, if they don’t have 50 per cent, only in the stores, there’s going to be consequences for them,” he said.
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.
The restricted hours, however, do apply to stores offering curbside pick-up.
Non-essential construction will also be restricted but many projects are still allowed to operate. Essential construction includes projects in the healthcare, long-term care, transit and education sectors.
Residential construction projects are allowed if a footing permit has been granted for single-family, semi-detached and townhomes, the project is a condominium, mixed-use or other residential building or the project involves renovations that started before Jan. 12.
The province also said that it is mulling another temporary ban on residential evictions and will make a decision soon.
“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,” Ford’s office said in a statement. “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.”
As for restaurants, pick-up and delivery will still be allowed throughout the lockdown.
Health care services, including dental offices, physiotherapy and chiropractors will remain open. Banks will also remain open.
Ford said a curfew, similar to what Quebec implemented on Saturday, will not be implemented in Ontario because he “does not believe in that.”
“And as soon as you tell the people of Ontario [that] you’ve lost trust and we’re gonna have police chasing you down the street when you’re driving, that’s it, it’s game over. Might as well throw in the white flag,” Ford said.
The province first declared a state of emergency on Mar. 17, 2020 which halted much of the province’s economy as non-essential businesses, schools, daycares and some healthcare services shut down.
The state of emergency officially ended in July after the government passed the Reopening Ontario Act.
Orders under this Act must be extended every 30 days, whereas emergency orders must be extended every 14 days.
In-person learning restrictions
The Ford government also announced that schools in certain public health units (PHU) will not return to in-person instruction until Feb. 10.
These PHUs include Toronto, Peel Region, York, Hamilton, Windsor-Essex, which are among the hardest-hit regions across the province.
Last week, the government announced that in-person learning for elementary students in southern Ontario wouldn’t resume until Jan. 25, two weeks later than the initial restart date of Jan. 11. In-person learning for secondary students had already been paused until Jan. 25.
Meanwhile, students in northern Ontario returned to in-person learning on Monday due to lower case counts in those regions.
By Jan. 20, the government said the Chief Medical Officer of Health will advise the Ministry of Education on which PHUs will be allowed to resume in-person instruction, based on the latest modelling.
In addition, new health and safety measures will be implemented for in-person learning, including masking for Grade 1 to 3, mask wearing outdoors and enhanced screening protocol.
The government said child care centres for non-school aged children will remain open, and emergency child care for school-aged children will end in approved PHUs on Jan. 22.
Paid sick leave
NDP leader Andrea Horwath weighed in on the new restrictions and said the lack of new measures is “horrifying” and “inadequate.”
“Today, we saw the same old kind of response from doug ford. An absolute inadequate response that completely lacks urgency as the circumstances described this morning. We see no new help coming,”she said during a press conference on Tuesday.
Horwath also blasted the government for implementing paid sick leave, which has been a topic of contention for some time.
“It is the wrong thing to do to not allow people to have the economic security that they need to do the right thing if they become ill, if they show symptoms, if they’re asked to quarantine,”she said.
On Monday, Mayor John Tory and Toronto’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa called on the government to ensure workers have 10 paid sick days during the pandemic.
When it comes to paid sick leave, Tory previously said it appears the federal and provincial governments are playing a bit of a game of “ping-pong.”
“This is a real source of fear and concern out there. It is just beyond comprehension, that no one has come forward and clearly stated, yes, we will look after you and your families during that period of time,” Tory said during a news conference on Monday.
The provincial government cancelled paid sick days in 2018 and made it so that most employees in Ontario can take up to three days of unpaid job-protected sick leave each calendar year.
The federal government’s recovery sickness benefit provides people with $500 per week, for up to two weeks.