Ontario has announced that a “provincewide shutdown” will begin on Boxing Day and last for four weeks in southern areas of the province and two weeks in northern areas.
“Unfortunately, despite the restrictions, we’ve seen growing numbers of people travelling between regions within Ontario,” Premier Doug Ford said during a press conference Monday.
“COVID is spreading rapidly from high outbreak areas to areas with fewer cases. As it does, our hospitals are filling up more each day. We’ve seen a 70 per cent increase in hospitalizations and 80 per cent increase in ICU admissions in the past few weeks.”
Ford said that a provincewide shutdown will take effect on Saturday at 12:01 a.m.
The shutdown includes a delayed return to in-person classes for both high school and elementary students after the winter break.
Officials said elementary-age children will not return to classes as planned on Jan. 4 and will instead engage in remote learning until they will return to in-person classes in all areas of the province on Jan. 11.
Secondary school students in northern areas of the province are also set to resume in-class instruction on Jan. 11, while in southern Ontario, high school students will work remotely until Jan. 25.
“I want to be clear: schools are not part of the problem of COVID in our communities,” Ford said.
“But out of an abundance of caution, school closures over the winter break will be extended.”
Child-care centres are expected to remain open for the duration of the shutdown, though during the period where elementary students will be out of classes, the centres will be prohibited from serving school-age children. Before and after school programs must also be cancelled the week of Jan. 4.
Some parents of school-age children might be eligible for emergency child care during the week of Jan. 4.
Meanwhile, many businesses throughout the province will be faced with restrictions throughout the shutdown, including restaurants and bars which will once again be limited to only takeout and delivery operations.
Personal care services must close.
Shopping malls, garden centres, general retail stores, hardware stores, pet stores, computer stores and cannabis stores will all be limited to curbside pickup or delivery only.
Discount and big-box retailers will be allowed to remain open so long as they sell groceries and limit the number of people inside to no more than 25 per cent capacity.
Grocery stores and pharmacies will be limited to 50 per cent capacity.
Construction is set to continue, and manufacturing businesses are allowed to continue operating.
“Remote work should happen in all industries to the greatest extent possible,” the government added.
“Employers should enable and support workers to work remotely and accommodate household needs related to virtual education and dependent care.”
On Sunday, sources briefed on previous lockdown plans indicated that the province had been considering new restrictions on outdoor activities like cross-country skiing or outdoor skating.
However, outdoor recreation amenities will be allowed to remain open, including parks and recreation areas, playgrounds, ice rinks as well as trails servicing snowmobiles, cross country and ice skating, all with physical distancing measures in place.
But ski hills must close as part of the shutdown, as must most fitness facilities.
Indoor social gatherings with anyone outside of your household are prohibited, though those who live alone may choose to visit one other household.
At the end of the shutdown period, Ontario is set to return to its colour-coded coronavirus response framework, officials said.
Also advised by the government during the shutdown is that anyone who comes into Ontario from outside of the province should self-isolate for 14 days.
For a list of more of the restrictions imposed during the shutdown, click here.
Province initially planned to implement lockdown on Christmas Eve
The government had previously planned to implement the measures beginning on Christmas Eve, sources told Global News.
When asked why the government decided to wait until Saturday to implement the new restrictions, Ford said he wanted to give businesses time to prepare.
“Give them the opportunity to get ready and get ready to hunker down,” he said.
“We can’t do it overnight and leave these people with the inventory, especially the restaurants with food inventory.”
Funding for small businesses
As part of the shutdown announcement, Ontario also announced new funding for small businesses.
The new Ontario Small Business Support Grant will provide a minimum of $10,000 and up to $20,000 for eligible businesses affected by the shutdown.
“Each small business will be able to use the support in whatever way makes the most sense for their individual business,” government officials said in a news release.
“For example, some businesses will need support paying employee wages or rent, while others will need support maintaining their inventory.”
Ford slams feds over airport testing
Premier Ford also expressed frustration with the federal government on Monday over requests he has made to implement COVID-19 testing at airports in the province, especially amid the emergence of a new coronavirus variant.
“We’ve been in talks with the federal government for weeks upon weeks about doing testing at the airport,” Ford said.
Ford said that if the federal government does not move to implement COVID-19 testing at the airport, the province will take action.