Ontario is launching a state of emergency and a new stay-at-home order in yet another effort to control the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ford government says it’s implementing these changes in response to “the rapid increase in COVID-19 transmission, the threat on the province’s hospital system capacity, and the increasing risks posed to the public by COVID-19 variants.”
The province says the order will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday morning.
This means that everyone in Ontario must stay at home except for essential purposes, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services (including getting vaccinated), for exercise close to home and with the people you live with, or for work that cannot be done remotely.
Premier Doug Ford says he waited to enforce these stringent restrictions as soon as he saw ICU capacity reach critical levels.
“The COVID-19 situation is at a critical stage and we must act quickly and decisively to stay ahead of these deadly new variants,” said Premier Doug Ford.
In addition to the province-wide stay-at-home order, the closure of non-essential retail and new restrictions for big box stores has been introduced by the government.
Discount and big box stores are limited strictly to in-person retail for sales of groceries, household cleaning supplies, pharmacy items (including pharmaceutical, health care, and personal care items, and pet care supplies) only.
In an effort to curb rising COVID-19 cases and ICU admissions, non-essential retail stores, such as malls, will be restricted to curbside pickup only.
The majority of non-essential retailers will only be allowed to operate for curbside pick-up and delivery between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m., with the delivery of goods to patrons permitted between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.
Ontario’s previous stay-at-home order went into effect on January 14 and was lifted nearly two months later on March 8.
The Ford government says schools and child care will remain open for in-person care and learning in public health regions where it is permitted, with strict safety measures in place.
However, the province says education workers who provide direct daily support to students with special education needs across the province, and all education workers in high-risk neighbourhoods in Toronto and Peel will be immediately eligible for a vaccine.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce says that enhanced safety measures will be put in place to protect students and staff once they return from the April break.
“We’re going to be encouraging outdoor education. More outdoor learning where it is possible this Spring and Summer. We know it has helped us in the Fall,” said Lecce.
“We’re going to be strongly urging as much education, experiential outside in our parks, in our playgrounds to make this learning experience possible but safe.”
Ontario health officials have openly criticized the Ford government’s handling of pandemic restrictions, particularly of late, as ICU admissions rapidly increase along with daily COVID-19 cases disproportionately affecting younger aged residents.
We are losing a #COVID ICU patient under age 50 every 2.8 days.
Stay-at-home will not address the root causes of variant-driven Wave 3 taking down younger people. pic.twitter.com/FxgZkfSOH0
— Michael Warner (@drmwarner) April 7, 2021
Earlier Tuesday, Premier Ford warned of increased restrictions in the COVID-19 hotspots of Toronto, Peel, and York Regions. He also expressed frustration at seeing GTA malls, such as Yorkdale, flooded with people this past weekend.
“Going to the malls is not essential,” he said, despite current public health measures permitting them to remain open.
“It was absolutely jam-packed and I truly was hoping that people wouldn’t be going in there at the volume that we saw.”
Three weeks ago, the Ford government allowed restaurants in “Grey-Lockdown” to open for outdoor dining and introduced a loosening of restrictions for indoor dining across multiple levels of its framework.
At the time, the province said restaurants operating in “Red-Control” and “Orange-Restrict” would be able to open with 50 percent capacity and a maximum of 50 and 100 people indoors, which went into effect on March 22.
Only 10 days later, the Ford government implemented an “emergency brake” across all 34 public health units that will be in place for at least four weeks that forced non-essential services to close, including in-person dining and personal care services, such as barbers, nail salons, and gyms.
When asked about the new restrictions, Ford said on April 1 that it was a “tough decision.”
During a media briefing, Dr. Loh said Wednesday the variants of concerns have “won this round” in the province.
“Even if we vaccinated everyone in Peel today, we would still not see changes in our trends for over four weeks,” he said.
“That means the second thing that we all need to do right now is to stay home as much as possible.”
-With files from The Canadian Press