Ontario Premier Doug Ford has issued a stay-at-home order to people in the province and declared a state of emergency. They are the latest measures to curb the increasing number of cases of COVID-19.
Ford stopped short of issuing a curfew, as Quebec did less than a week ago, but said police and municipal enforcement officers would be given the authority to issue tickets to individuals who do not comply with the stay-at-home-order or those not wearing a face covering indoors, as well as retail operators and companies who do not enforce.
The order takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday and remain in effect for 28 days.
"Under this order, everyone must stay home and only go out for essential trips to pick up groceries or go to medical appointments," Ford said.
People will also be able to go the pharmacy, essential work or exercise.
Ford said the measures are in response to new modeling data for the province, which suggests the worst is yet to come: 5,000-10,000 new cases a day by the middle of next month. COVID-19 cases have doubled in Ontario during the past two weeks, and that has left the province’s hospitals and long-term care centers threatened with collapse when it comes to the ability to respond to the high number of cases.
Ford said Ontario’s health care system has taken all it can.
"The system is on the brink of collapse, it’s on the brink of being overwhelmed," he said. "We’re at levels we’ve never seen before."
There were 2,903 new, active cases of COVID-19 across Ontario between Jan. 11-Jan. 12 and 30,141 active cases of COVID-19 across Ontario as of Tuesday; 1,701 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized across Ontario as of Jan. 12, including 385 in intensive care and 262 patients on ventilators; and there have been 5,053 deaths as of Jan. 12.
There are also concerns about the new UK variant of the coronavirus, which could dramatically increase the case numbers if it takes hold in the community.
Public health officials say many people have not been cooperating and have not been following the health guidelines. Ford referred to data indicating that one-third of Ontarians were not following the COVID-19 restrictions that were already in place.
Now they could be faced with fines or penalties that include up to a year in jail.
In addition to the stay-at-home order, the government also announced further public health measures on Tuesday:
- 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.
- 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 individuals cannot physically distance more than 6 feet or 2 meters.
- 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.
By Jan. 20, the Chief Medical Officer of Health will advise the Ministry of Education which public health units will be permitted to resume in-person instruction, based on the most up-to-date data and modeling. Before and after-school programs can be offered when in-person instruction resumes.
Childcare centers for non-school aged children will remain open and emergency childcare for school-aged children will end in approved regions on Jan. 22, as these elementary schools return to in-person learning. During this extended period of online learning, in areas where in-person elementary learning is suspended, emergency childcare will continue for eligible families in regions subject to school closures.