Ontario Government Emergency Shutdown And Stay-At-Home Order Has Wide Implications
Government Declares Second Provincial Emergency to Address COVID-19 Crisis
Province Issues Stay-at-Home Order and Introduces Enhanced Enforcement Measures to Reduce Mobility
TORONTO — In response to a doubling in COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks, the real and looming 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, the Ontario government, in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health and other health experts, is immediately declaring a second provincial emergency under s 7.0.1 (1) of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMPCA).
Details were provided today by Premier Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health, and Dr. Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown, Co-Chair of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.
"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," said Premier Ford. "That's why we are taking urgent and decisive action, which includes declaring a provincial emergency and imposing a stay-at-home-order. We need people to only go out only for essential trips to pick up groceries or go to medical appointments. By doing the right thing and staying home, you can stay safe and save lives."
Effective Thursday, January 14, 2021at 12:01 a.m., the government is issuing a stay-at-home order requiring everyone to remain at home with exceptions for permitted purposes or activities, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services, for exercise or for work where the work cannot be done remotely. This 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. In addition to limiting outings for these purposes, all businesses must ensure that any employee who can work from home, does work from home.
These new public health measures will help stop the spread of COVID-19 by reducing concerning levels of mobility as the province continues its vaccine rollout and ramps up to mass vaccination when the federal government is able to provide the necessary supply to do so.
Additional Public Health Restrictions
Since the implementation of the Provincewide Shutdown over two weeks ago, the latest modelling trends in key public health indicators have continued to worsen, forecasting an overwhelming of the health system unless drastic action is taken. Escalating case counts have led to increasing hospitalization rates and intensive care unit (ICU) occupancy which has resulted in cancellations of scheduled surgeries and procedures.
Provincial modelling shows growth in COVID-19 cases has accelerated, leading to increased hospitalization rates and ICU occupancy. ICU occupancy by COVID-19 patients is now over 400 beds and is projected to be as high as 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. Notably, data shows that 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.
In response to the alarming and exceptional circumstances at hand, and to further interrupt the deadly trend of transmission in Ontario communities, hospitals, and long-term care homes, the following additional public health measures will take effect January 13, 2021 at 12:01 a.m.:
- 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.
- 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, orders under that Act, and amendments to regulations under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020.
"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. This volume of rapid tests would support antigen screening for up to 150,000 workers per week over the next 4-5 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. On January 7, the government extended the shutdown for Northern Ontario to at least January 23, 2021 to align with the rest of the province. These time-limited measures will be evaluated after 14 days to determine if any restrictions need to be extended or lifted.
New Enforcement Measures
The province will provide authority to all 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 in places open to the public, subject to limited exceptions, as well as retail operators and companies who do not enforce requirements under orders under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act (ROA) or EMPCA. Those who decide not to abide by orders will be subject to a set fine and/or prosecution under both the ROA and EMCPA as applicable.
In addition, all provincial offences officers will have the authority to temporarily close a premise and disperse individuals who are in contravention of gathering limits 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.
"Strong, new measures will be enforced to stop the spread of COVID-19," said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones. "We are taking extraordinary action to provide law enforcement officers with the tools and support they need to protect the health and wellbeing of Ontarians."