Toronto – Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a province-wide lockdown to begin the day after Christmas.
“This province-wide shutdown is temporary,” he said during a conference from Queen’s Park on Monday afternoon. “We are asking all Ontarians to stay home and only leave when absolutely necessary.”
Although leaked information to news sources had originally stated the lockdown would begin on December 24, when the premier made the announcement, the lockdown was announced to begin on Boxing Day, December 26. The new measures will include a 28-day lockdown for all parts of the province south of Sudbury. Areas north of Sudbury, however, will move into a two-week lockdown. The lockdown will be similar to that experienced in the spring, with only essential businesses remaining open.
“This difficult action is without a doubt necessary to save lives,” he said.
The premier said he wanted to specifically address the concerns of people in the green and yellow zones. Renfrew County and District has been in a green zone with a relatively low rate of infection.
“The risk of intra-provincial travel and further spread is a real concern,” he said. “People are moving from region to region and bringing COVID with them.”
People in green zones are at risk from people flooding in if they stay open and this is a concern, he said. Not only with people moving within the province but also coming over from neighbouring Quebec, he said.
“COVID is spreading rapidly from high outbreak areas to areas with fewer cases,” he said. “Our hospitals are filling up more each day.”
There has been a 70 per cent increase in hospitalizations in the last few weeks, he added. It is important to preserve capacity in the hospitals and ICUs and Ontario is on the verge of cancelling elective surgeries, he said.
Dr. David Williams, the chief medical officer of health for the province, said the lockdown is necessary in all areas to stop the spread of disease.
“It does not mean they have a bunch of immune people in the community,” he said of green zones. “They have a low rate of infectivity that can explode at any time.”
Premier Ford said they would continue to look at the situation in the green and yellow zones during the lockdown and could possibly re-evaluate.
“We will be reviewing after a couple of weeks the yellow and green areas,” he said.
Premier Ford said the lockdown decision was made to deal with the escalating rates of COVID-19 infection in the province. When questioned about why there was a five-day delay in brining in the lockdown, the premier said this will give businesses a chance to prepare, especially restaurants.
“We can’t do it overnight, especially restaurants with food inventory,” he said.
The premier said the advice is to stay home already and not have people over and prepare for the lockdown.
Lockdown restrictions were not outlined specifically during the press conference but include a ban on indoor gatherings and the closure of non-essential businesses. Grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open. Premier Ford admitted this will be hard on many small businesses throughout Ontario.
“I know how much our businesses are struggling,” the premier said.
There is a new Ontario Busines Support Grant for eligible small businesses for a $10,000 to $20,000 grant, he said. There is also a wage and rent subsidy.
“I am a businessman and I understand the struggles business have to face,” he said.
As part of the lockdown there will be an extended school closure for elementary school students up to Grade 8 until January 11. Secondary school students will begin remote learning on January 11 and move into in-class learning on January 25.
The premier said it was important to note Ontario still had the lowest rate of COVID-19 per capita in all North America.
“We don’t want this getting out of hand,” he said.
The premier also reminded Ontarians vaccines are on their way. He cautioned it will be several months before the vaccines are rolled out in the province.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
The Premier also expressed his frustration about people coming into Canada, including the 64,000 people coming in through Pearson. Not everyone is quarantining, with about 10 per cent not quarantining, he said.
“These folks are roaming the streets and we are letting it happen,” he said.
“I’m not going to put the people of Ontario at risk just because the federal government does not want to do tests,” he said.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader