The Ontario government has declared a state of emergency — the second since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic — and is issuing a stay-at-home order.
Premier Doug Ford said the state of emergency will be in effect for at least 28 days.
“The system is on the brink of collapse,” Ford said.
“It’s on the brink of being overwhelmed. We’re at levels we’ve never seen before.”
The stay-at-home order will take effect on Thursday at 12:01 a.m.
“Under this order, everyone must stay home and only go out for essential trips to pick up groceries, or go to medical appointments,” Ford said, adding that walking pets or exercising is still permitted.
All businesses that have the ability to allow employees to work from home must do so, officials said.
“Under the declaration of a provincial emergency, the province will provide authority to all enforcement and provincial offences officers, including the Ontario Provincial Police, local police forces, bylaw officers, and provincial workplace inspectors to issue tickets to individuals who do not comply with the stay-at-home-order,” officials said in a government news release Tuesday.
Ford said enforcement and inspection will be increased and an inspection blitz at big-box stores will begin in the coming days.
“If individuals, employees, and corporations in retail settings are found not complying with an order, enforcement personnel have the authority to issue a fine,” Solicitor General Sylvia Jones added.
“If people are found not complying with these orders, they will be subject to fines and prosecution. Penalties may include up to a year in jail.”
The province hasn’t specified how officers will check why people are outside their homes. But it said that people will have a duty to identify themselves when a police officer has “reasonable and probable grounds” that there has been a breach of the orders made under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.
Ford said enforcement will continue for as long as needed, “but ultimately from day one, we’ve been counting on people to do the right thing.”
“I know everyone is tired. I know everyone is sick of COVID, including myself. I know everyone wants to return to normal,” he said.
Ford said vaccines will eventually provide relief for the province, particularly when vaccinations are expanded in April, May, and June, but until then there needs to be “a little bit of a runway.”
New restrictions for retail, construction
The province has also announced new restrictions for retailers and the construction industry.
Non-essential retailers including hardware stores, alcohol retailers, and stores offering curbside pickup and delivery can’t open earlier than 7 a.m. and must close no later than 8 p.m.
Construction projects deemed non-essential must stop, though the list of those deemed essential is extensive.
The government said projects associated with the health-care sector and long-term care can continue, as can projects that “ensure safe and reliable operations of, or to provide new capacity in” the province’s infrastructure including transit, transportation, energy, and justice sectors.
Projects supporting schools, colleges, universities, municipal infrastructure and child-care centres can continue, as can those that support cellular technologies. Sites where below-grade and multi-unit residential buildings are being built can continue operating, along with those intending to support affordable housing or shelters.
Most residential projects can continue, including renovations that began before Jan. 12.
Other types of projects are also able to continue:
School closures extended for some regions
Students will not return to in-person learning in Toronto, Peel, York, Hamilton, and Windsor until Feb. 10.
“By Jan. 20, the chief medical officer of health will provide recommendations for the remaining regions,” Ford said.
Earlier on Tuesday, provincial officials released new COVID-19 modelling which showed that deaths in Ontario’s second wave could outpace the first if people don’t have a “significant reduction” in contacts with others.
Ontario could see deaths rise to 100 per day by the end of February and intensive care units will continue to face serious challenges.
Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, who worked on the projections, said that would likely make COVID-19 the leading cause of death in Ontario — ahead of cancer and heart disease — “with very little opportunity for challenge.”
— With files from The Canadian Press