The Ontario government has declared the province’s third state of emergency amid the COVID-19 pandemic and is issuing a provincewide stay-at-home order effective on Thursday at 12:01 a.m.
The order will remain in effect for four weeks and officials said it means residents must stay home except for essential reasons, including going grocery shopping, to pick up prescription medication, accessing health care, going to work when it cannot be done remotely, and exercising close to home.
Premier Doug Ford made the announcement during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
“The situation is evolving rapidly, hour-by-hour,” Ford said.
“We just need to hunker down right now, we need to limit mobility … I know this is tough on businesses, but I promise we will continue to have your backs.”
The government is limiting most non-essential retail businesses to curbside pickup only.
Big-box stores will be restricted to selling essential items only for people shopping in-person.
Schools and child care will stay open for in-person operations other than in areas where local medical officers have ordered their closure.
The government said education workers who provide direct daily support to students with special needs across the province and education workers in high-risk neighbourhoods in Toronto and Peel Region will be eligible for vaccination during the April break next week.
Eligibility will also expand to education workers in high-risk neighbourhoods in hot spots including York, Ottawa, Hamilton, Halton, and Durham and eventually the rest of the province as more supply arrives, officials said.
The government also announced that as part of its Phase 2 vaccine distribution plan, mobile teams will administer shots in hot spot neighbourhoods in high-risk congregate settings, faith-based locations, residential buildings, and locations occupied by large employers for individuals aged 18 and older. It is not yet clear when that will begin.
“Our hospitals are being hit hard. Intensive care units have more patients now than they did in previous waves,” Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said Wednesday afternoon.
“The current level of vaccination is not enough to prevent the spread of the virus we’re seeing.”
Ford said “hope is on the horizon” but variants are making the third wave of the virus uniquely difficult.
He said as long as the federal government follows through on forecasted vaccine allocations, 40 per cent of adults will be able to get vaccinated by the time the stay-at-home order is scheduled to be lifted.
Ontario administered a record 104,382 vaccines on Tuesday and Ford said 128,000 appointments were booked for Wednesday.
Officials said the stay-at-home order will be enforced, but added that ultimately they need residents to comply with the regulations to get the spread of the virus under control.
The government will step up inspections at essential businesses in hot spot zones and continue to deploy rapid testing to workplaces in key economic sectors, including manufacturing and construction, officials said.
Ford said residential evictions will be suspended during the stay-at-home order.
He also addressed the topic of paid sick days and said the province hasn’t implemented its own plan because the federal government has already made funding available.
Global News first reported Tuesday night that the government was considering imposing the stay-at-home order.
The new restrictions are in addition to measures that were put in place several days ago as part of a “provincewide shutdown.”
The shutdown, which took effect Saturday, meant, among other things, that in-person dining, personal care services, and gyms had to close. Non-essential in-person retail was still allowed to remain open with capacity restrictions, however, and the government had opted against issuing a stay-at-home order.
But on Tuesday, Ford hinted at the possibility of more restrictions and expressed frustration about seeing scenes of a packed Yorkdale Mall parking lot over the long weekend.
When asked what has changed since last week to cause additional restrictions to be implemented, Ford and the province’s chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams said hospital admissions surged faster than expected.
Ontario has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks as the province continues to be impacted by a third wave of the virus, largely driven by more contagious variants. On Wednesday, 3,215 COVID-19 cases were reported, marking the largest single-day increase since mid-January.
Seventeen additional deaths were also reported, bringing the provincial death toll to 7,475. The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units throughout the province also remains among all-time highs, at 504.
Hot spot communities designated by Ontario government
Here is the Ontario government’s list of designated hot spot communities based on COVID-19 cases and categorized by postal codes (the first three characters):
- Durham Region: L1S, L1T, L1V, L1X, L1Z
- Halton Region: L9E
- Hamilton: L8W, L9C
- Niagara Region: L2G
- Peel Region: L4T, L4W, L4X, L4Z, L5A, L5B, L5C, L5K, L5L, L5M, L5N, L5R, L5V, L5W, L6P, L6R, L6S, L6T, L6V, L6W, L6X, L6Y, L6Z, L7A, L7C
- Ottawa: K1T, K1V, K2V
- Simcoe-Muskoka Region: L3Z
- Southwestern: N5H
- Toronto: M1B, M1C, M1E, M1G, M1H, M1J, M1K, M1L, M1M, M1P, M1R, M1S, M1T, M1V, M1W, M1X, M2J, M2M, M2R, M3A, M3C, M3H, M3J, M3K, M3L, M3M, M3N, M4A, M4H, M4X, M5A, M5B, M5N, M5V, M6A, M6B, M6E, M6H, M6K, M6L, M6M, M6N, M8V, M9A, M9B, M9C, M9L, M9M, M9N, M9P, M9R, M9V, M9W
- Waterloo: N2C
- Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: N1K
- Windsor-Essex: N8H, N8X, N8Y, N9A, N9B, N9C, N9Y
- York Region: L0J, L3S, L3T, L4B, L4E, L4H, L4J, L4K, L4L, L6A, L6B, L6C, L6E
— With files from Nick Westoll