On the first day of Ontario’s latest COVID-19 state of emergency and stay-at-home order, big-box stores have been forced to enact new measures to block off items deemed non-essential by the provincial government.
Some large retailers such as Walmart could be seen putting essential items (toilet paper, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes were among the products) in front of entire sections of the store in an effort to restrict customer access as other areas were blocked off with yellow caution tape.
Dozens of blue boxes were also seen blocking off a clothing section at a Toronto Walmart location.
Meanwhile, staff at a Toronto Costco store used clear wrapping to block entire sections of non-essential goods. Some items were grouped together and blocked off.
The provincewide stay-at-home order and a third state of emergency declaration came into effect on Thursday at 12:01 a.m.
Many non-essential retail stores either closed entirely or switched to curbside pickup or delivery. Only essential items such as food, pharmacy items and household cleaning supplies can be sold.
On Thursday, Ontario reported 3,295 new COVID-19 cases, the highest daily increase since mid-January. Hospital ICU admissions hit a pandemic record high with 525 COVID-19 patients. Nineteen more virus-related deaths were also recorded.
Retail analyst Bruce Winder says the new rules help level the playing field for retailers.
In previous lockdowns, stores like bookstores and flower shops were restricted to curbside pickup and delivery but shoppers could buy books and flowers in person at grocery and big box stores.
The situation prompted small business owners to complain that the rules benefited larger retailers while hurting smaller, independent operators.
Winder says the latest emergency measures enacted by the province reinforce the message that people should only go shopping for essential items.
Below is what two big-box store locations looked like Thursday morning.
—With files from The Canadian Press