TORONTO – Except for essential services, Ontario will close for 28 days beginning on Boxing Day. Indoor recreation facilities, sports programs, non-essential retail will all shut down at 12:01 a.m. December 26th.
The move by the provincial government is in response to the latest COVID-19 data modelling, and record-setting case numbers showing over 2,000 new coronavirus cases per day for more than seven days straight.
According to government data, Ontario could see Intensive Care Units reach critical levels in the next two weeks. Premier Doug Ford announced the 28 day lockdown December 21st.
If the province does not undergo a lockdown, “the consequences could be catastrophic,” said Ford. “We’ve seen in other jurisdictions what out of control case loads and death counts look like,” added Ford.
The decision to shut down Ontario was made after two days of emergency meetings held over the weekend between the provincial health table, medical professionals, cabinet, and the premier. It followed a call from the Ontario Hospital Association and hospitals across the Greater Toronto Area for a lockdown.
Since December 1st, the province has seen nearly a 70 per cent increase in COVID-19 related hospitalizations, and an increase of over 80 per cent in Intensive Care Unit cases.
The letter said the “level of strain is simply not sustainable for much longer.”
The restrictions in Southern and Eastern Ontario, including the Eastern Ontario Health Unit region (SDG Counties, City of Cornwall, and Prescott-Russell) will be in effect until January 23, 2021. Northern Ontario will have a shorter, 14-day lockdown ending January 9th.
Businesses and services deemed “essential” include supply chain and logistics companies, and construction trades. Grocery stores, convenience stores, pharmacies, discount and big-box stores that sell groceries, and stores that sell wine, beer, or spirits. Those businesses can only have 25 per cent of the normal customer occupancy in the store during the lockdown period.
Banks and post offices will remain open as will government offices, but libraries are to move back to curbside pickup only.
Restaurants and bars must close their dining areas and switch to take-out and delivery only. This includes the sale of alcohol by either method if the business is licenced, which is a permanent change to the Liquor Licencing Act regulation made earlier in December.
All other retail businesses including hardware, clothing and other retail stores, are considered “non-essential” by the government and will switch to curb-side pickup or delivery options only. No in-store shopping during the lockdown period is allowed.
Service-based businesses like barber shops, hair salons, and esthetician salons will close.
There will be no organized indoor gatherings permitted except with members of the same household. Individuals who live alone are allowed to consider having exclusive, close contact with another household to avoid social isolation.
Outdoor social or public events or gatherings can have no more than 10 people. Weddings, funerals, and church services face restrictions of 10 people indoors, or 10 people outdoors.
Elementary and Secondary students will return to online, or virtual, classes January 4th. Elementary students will return to in-class, in-person learning January 11th. Secondary students will continue to learn online for two weeks, returning to in-class, in-person learning January 25th.
Daycares will remain open throughout the duration of the lockdown period, but cannot take school-aged children during the virtual school instruction weeks.
Universities and colleges can return to virtual instruction, with limited exceptions made for specific health-care related in-person instruction.
While the province is on lockdown, indoor recreation including arenas, gyms, pools, and other facilities are closed. Unlike the spring lockdown however, many outdoor recreation options are still allowed. These include conservation areas, playgrounds, and outdoor ice rinks. Snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding are also allowed – subject to local restrictions or orders from local health units.
EOHU Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis said he agreed with the lockdown measures announced by the province.
“Yes, I agree,” he said. “Especially that it evens the playing field with Québec.”
Québec announced last week it would enter a lockdown beginning Christmas Day for 18 days, ending on January 11th.
Roumeliotis said the Ministry of Health will be evaluating Ontario’s lockdown weekly, but said there was no indication that it could end in the region earlier than the 28 days.
“We have no indication that the southern regions of [Ontario] will be allowed to end the shutdown in 14 days,” he said. “Perhaps decisions will be made if the numbers are very favourable.”
Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leader