Today, (Jan. 12) Ontario issued a second provincial stay-at-home order as an additional measure amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Today’s announcement was made 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 additional measures were put in place to introduce enhanced enforcement measures to reduce mobility amid the pandemic.
Over the past few weeks, there has been a doubling of COVID-19 case numbers across the province, causing a threat to Ontario’s hospital system as well as posing alarming risks 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 the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMPCA).
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“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, 2021, at 12:01 a.m., the government is issuing a stay-at-home order with the exception of essential purposes, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services, for exercise or for essential work.
This order, along with other new and existing public health restrictions, aim to limit people’s mobility and reduce the number of daily contacts with those outside an immediate household.
Additionally, all businesses must ensure that any employee who can work from home, does work from home.
As the province continues its vaccine rollout, these new public health measures will help stop the spread of COVID-19 by reducing concerning levels of mobility.
Since the implementation of the province-wide shutdown over two weeks ago, the latest modelling trends in key public health indicators have continued to worsen.
The modelling trends have also forecasted an overwhelming of the health system unless drastic action is taken.
Escalating case counts have led to increased hospitalization rates and intensive care unit (ICU) occupancy which has resulted in cancellations of scheduled surgeries and procedures.
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 also continues to rise and is expected to double from 50 to 100 deaths per day between now and the end of February.
Data also shows that mobility and contacts between people have not decreased even with the current restrictions.
Effective Jan. 14 at 12:01 am, outdoor organized public gatherings and social gatherings are further restricted to a limit of five people with limited exceptions.
Individuals are required to wear a mask or face-covering in the indoor areas of businesses or organizations that are open.
All non-essential retail stores, including hardware stores, alcohol retailers, and those offering curbside pickup or delivery, must open no earlier than 7:00 am. and close no later than 8:00 pm.
The restricted hours do not apply to stores that primarily sell food, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores and restaurants open for takeout or delivery.
Non-essential construction is further restricted, including below-grade construction.
“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.”
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 to help identify and isolate cases of COVID-19 in workplaces, long-term care homes and schools.
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.”
Under the declaration of a provincial emergency, Ontario 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 those who do not comply with the stay-at-home-order, those not wearing a mask or face-covering indoors and 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 under both the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, (ROA) and EMCPA.
Additionally, all enforcement personnel will have the authority to temporarily close a premise as well as disperse individuals who are in contravention of an order or people who are gathering, regardless of whether a premise has been closed or remains open. This includes parks or houses.
Based on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, schools in Windsor-Essex, Peel, Toronto, York and Hamilton will not return to in-person instruction until February 10, 2021.
The Chief Medical Officer of Health will advise the Ministry of Education on which public health units (PHUs) will be permitted to resume in-person instruction by Jan. 20, 2021, based on the most up-to-date data and modelling.
Before- and after-school programs can be offered when in-person instruction resumes. Schools in northern PHUs will continue to remain open.
To continue to keep students, staff and communities safe, new health and safety measures will be put in place for in-person learning.
These measures include masking for grades 1-3 and requirements for mask-wearing outdoors, enhanced screening protocols and expanded targeted testing.
Additionally, the government will implement new health and safety measures across the province in child care settings, including enhanced screening to align with school requirements, voluntary participation in targeted testing and additional infection prevention and control measures to align with schools.
Child care centres for non-school aged children will remain open.
Emergency child care for school-aged children will end in approved PHU regions on Jan. 22, 2021, as these elementary schools return to in-person learning.
Emergency child care will continue for eligible families in regions subject to school closures, as identified by the Chief Medical Officer of Health during the extended period of online learning, in areas where in-person elementary learning is suspended.
“At the heart of our continued efforts to protect against the spread of COVID-19 in our communities is a firm commitment to return kids to school safely,” said Education Minister Stephen Lecce.
“Protecting our students, staff and their families is our top priority, and these additional measures build on our comprehensive plan to reopen schools and keep young children in child care safe.”
The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development is also taking additional steps to protect workers with the launch of the “Stay Safe All Day” campaign, which will focus on workplace inspections in areas of high transmissions, such as break rooms and provide educational materials to employers promoting safe behaviour before, during and after work.
To date, evidence gathered from COVID-19 related workplace inspections indicates that the vast majority of employers and workers are following COVID-19 safety requirements when working.
In conjunction with the Ministry of Long-Term Care and the Retirement Regulatory Authority, the Ministry is using a new data-sharing program to focus on onsite inspections of long-term-care homes and retirement homes.
In the unfortunate event that an employee becomes infected with COVID-19, they may be entitled to federally funded paid sick leave of up to $500 a week for two weeks.
Additionally, if employees are unable to work because they must care for their child under 12 years old or a family member who needs supervised care, they can access Canada’s Recovery Caregiver Benefit of up to $500 per week for up to 26 weeks.
As part of the Safe Restart Agreement, the federal government is funding a temporary income support program that allows workers to take up to 10 days of leave related to COVID-19, preventing the risk of further spread in the workplace and well as allowing workers to focus on their health.