Toronto -- Ontario Premier Doug Ford issued a Stay-at-Home Order beginning on Thursday.
“Everyone must stay home and only go out for essential trips,” he said at a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.
“When possible, please work from home,” he said, pointing out this was what was happening in April during the first wave of the pandemic but is no longer the case despite the closure of non-essential businesses.
As part of the new measures, outdoor organized public gatherings and social gatherings are further restricted to a limit of five people with limited exceptions. As well, people 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 people can't physically distance more than two metres.
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.
Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said enforcement of the rules will be strict including penalties which may include up to a year in jail. As part of these provisions by-law officers can also lay fines and disperse crowds outside of greater than five people, she said.
The premier said the province is entering its second state of emergency which will last “at least” 28 days. Acknowledging Ontarians are sick of COVID and the existing restrictions, he said one-third of Ontarians are not following public health guidelines.
“I know the stay-at-home order is a drastic measure which we don’t take lightly,” he added. “Everyone stay home. Bad actors who are caught, they will be fined.”
Noting he did not believe in curfews like the one brought in in Quebec, the premier said he was counting on the people of Ontario to comply with this order.
“I believe in the people of Ontario,” he said. “Everyone has been working together. The last thing I’ve ever believed in was having a curfew that when you pull out of your driveway the police are chasing you.”
People will have the freedom to leave their homes, but all gatherings are prohibited, he said.
“If you need to walk your dog, walk your dog,” he said. “All we are asking is for co-operation from the people of Ontario. Please stay home.”
As part of the measures, schools in the hardest hit areas, including Windsor/Essex, Peel, Toronto, Hamilton and York will be closed for in-person learning until February 10. In other areas recommendations will be made on January 20. Schools in northern Ontario which are already open will remain open. New guidelines are in place for in-person learning, including mask wearing for students from Grade 1-3 and requirements for wearing masks outdoors. As well, there will be enhanced screening protocols and expanded targeted testing in schools.
He pointed out one issue is when younger people go out with their friends, don’t wear a mask and then come home which can pass the virus on to their parents. In turn it gets passed on to the grandparents who can end up in the hospital and may die from the disease.
“If you love your grandparents and I know you do, please follow the process,” Premier Ford said.
Premier Ford promised to come down “like an 800-lb gorilla” on big box stores, noting they are not adhering to the guidelines for 50 per cent capacity which were already in place.
He said these measures are in place because projections show the number of COVID cases, including the new UK variant, are increasing rapidly in the province. 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 continues to rise and is expected to double from 50 to 100 deaths per day between now and the end of February. The health care system is at the brink of collapse with levels of COVID-19 unseen before.
“There will soon be some really dark days ahead,” he said.
However, the premier said the people of Ontario have the spirt to get through the worst days to come. Noting the province has close to 15 million people, he said it is important to work together.
“Stay home, safe lives, protect our health care system,” he said.
The premier said it was important to get through the next few months as Ontario anticipates a massive vaccine rollout in April, May and June. So far 130,000 doses have been administered in Ontario. He said the province has been pushing the federal government to increase dosages so more people can be vaccinated sooner.
Deputy Premier Christine Elliot pointed out 5,000 people have died in the province from COVID and 41 died on Monday.
“We must change our mobility patterns,” he said. “You must stay home as much as possible.”
Employees who can work from home must do so, she added.
The province will also be increasing testing, including rapid testing.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader