TORONTO — Ontario's premier defended his government's new stay-at-home order on Wednesday as critics called it unclear and officials in the province's largest city said they were still seeking details on the rules.
A day after plunging the province into its second state of emergency since the start of the pandemic, Premier Doug Ford attempted to clarify the order that asks residents to stay home except for essential outings.
"If you're not sure if a trip is absolutely essential, it probably isn't," Ford said. "So please, you must stay home."
The premier added that residents should "use their best judgment" when determining if they need to leave home.
"It's very simple," he said. "Stay home. Stay home. That's it."
Under the order that takes effect Thursday, Ontario residents will be required to stay at home except for essential activities such as accessing health care, shopping for groceries, or outdoor exercise.
The province has said there's no set definition for what is "essential," because everyone has their own unique circumstances and regional considerations. There's no limit on how many times people can leave their homes per day, or on how long they can be out.
The province also has yet to detail the legal parameters surrounding enforcement of the order but said they were to be posted online Wednesday night.
The order is part of Ontario's latest attempt to combat skyrocketing rates of COVID-19 that officials have warned are on track to overwhelm the health system.
Critics have said the lack of a definition for what's essential, as well as a dearth of details on how the order will be enforced, have led to confusion.
Officials with the City of Toronto said they were still awaiting clarification on how to enforce the order and were seeking details on what it will mean for outdoor recreation areas.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said city officials will review the guidelines carefully when they receive them but urged people to follow the basic principle of the order.
"If people would just opt in default always, not just today when it's not yet clear, but tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, to stay home ... that will help deal with the COVID situation," he said.
Thomas Tenkate, a professor of occupational and public health at Ryerson University, said the government did not clearly communicate the order when it was announced and needed to clarify it.
"People are worried if they misinterpret things will they get a fine by the police?" he said. "'It's easy to say 'use common sense' or 'use your best judgment,' but we know common sense isn't that common."
Tenkate said the government should also clarify what it deems to be essential work.
"For someone who needs to pay the bills, their work is essential," he said.
Opposition politicians continued their call Wednesday for the Ford government to implement paid sick days to help workers self-isolate as virus rates increase.
NDP Legislator Jamie West said by providing paid sick days the government could save lives.
“Doug Ford needs to act today to end the horrible choice he’s forcing workers to make between financial worry, or risk catching the virus and spreading it to their family,” West said in a statement.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner called on Ford to restore the two paid sick days his government cut when it took office in 2018.
"If people are going to be able to stay home, they shouldn’t have to worry about putting food on the table when they’re sick," Schreiner said in a statement.
Ontario reported 2,961 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 74 more deaths linked to the virus.
The government also said Wednesday it plans to administer the COVID-19 vaccine in all nursing and high-risk retirement homes by Feb. 15.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 13, 2021.
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press