Ontario attempts to clarify what is essential under COVID-19 pandemic stay-at-home order

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Questions and Answers on Ontario’s stay-at-home order'
Coronavirus: Questions and Answers on Ontario’s stay-at-home order
WATCH ABOVE: Queen's Park Bureau Chief Travis Dhanraj answers viewer questions about the provincial stay at home order – Jan 13, 2021

On Tuesday, the province announced that Ontario would enter into a state of emergency on Thursday while also issuing a stay-at-home order to residents.

The order, which has come as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, will take effect at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday and will last at least 28 days.

“Under this order, everyone must stay home and only go out for essential trips to pick up groceries, or go to medical appointments,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday, adding that walking pets or exercising is still permitted.

The announcement left many people looking for clarification as to what they were and weren’t still permitted to do over the next month, so a government spokesperson provided some clarification on Wednesday.

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“Ontario is a big, diverse province,” Travis Kann explained in an email while noting that residents in the city of Toronto would have easier access to online shopping than those in more remote areas.

“As such, and as we have from the very outset of this pandemic, we will continue to rely on the best judgment of Ontarians as they stay at home as much as possible and only leave their homes for essential purposes.”

The province says this is, in part, why they are still allowing curbside pickup despite issuing the stay-at-home order.

“We’ve learned a lot over the past year responding to this pandemic, including the fact that what may be essential to someone in Timmins and how they buy that item may not be essential to someone in downtown Toronto, who can easily buy items online for delivery,” it says.

Having the government of Ontario determine what retailers may consider as essential “risks cutting off many Ontarians who don’t live in Toronto or an urban centre from access to necessary goods,” the province says.

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The government says it also cannot decide what is an essential item for every person across Ontario although it tried to clarify what would be considered an essential trip.

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“We have provided broad categories that people should consider before leaving their home: food, health-care services, including medication, exercise or work, where someone’s job cannot be done at home,” it said.

Ontario also won’t say what jobs are essential but did say that if you can work from home, work from home.

“The Government of Ontario cannot review tens of millions of job descriptions to determine who can work from home,” the update read. “As such, we are relying on the best judgment and common sense of employers to determine who can do so.

“If an employee believes they should be working from home, they can contact the Ministry of Labour to file a health and safety complaint.”

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The province says it is not placing limits on how often or for how long people can leave their homes for essential trips, but is asking residents to try to limit the number of stores they visit and for how long.

The new restrictions also allow people to gather in groups of five outdoors, which the government says it is allowing so that people who live on their own can still have company or support for mental and physical wellbeing.

“Anyone gathering outside is expected to adhere to physical distancing measures and are now strongly urged to wear a mask,” the province said.

Single residents are also still permitted to join up with another household under the new restrictions for similar reasons.

One of the vaguest parts of the announcement was whether playgrounds or basketball courts are still in play for residents.

The government says that exercise is considered essential although how Ontarians choose to do so is unique to each household.

“Some may wish to go for a walk around the block, while others may wish to go to a local basketball court with their household to shoot some hoops,” the province said.

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“We recommend that Ontarians consult their local public health unit or municipality to understand what recreational amenities are open in their community.”

Click to play video: 'How Ontario’s COVID-19 state of emergency impacts vulnerable populations'
How Ontario’s COVID-19 state of emergency impacts vulnerable populations

Finally, many have questioned whether residents will be allowed to travel to cottages or secondary residences.

“Right now, we are asking people to stay home and only leave their home for essential purposes, which could include emergency maintenance of a secondary residence,” it says.

“In the spirit of the stay-at-home order, at this time we are not recommending intra-provincial travel.”

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