The Ontario government has unveiled several new COVID-19 restrictions aimed at curbing record-high cases in the province, including increased police powers, provincial border checkpoints and restricting outdoor gatherings.
Premier Doug Ford made the announcement at Queen’s Park Friday afternoon.
“We’re losing the battle between the variants and vaccines,” he told reporters.
“The reality is there are few options left.”
Ford announced an extension of Ontario’s state of emergency and provincewide stay-at-home order until at least May 20 in line with recommendations made by doctors and scientists earlier in the day.
Outdoor gatherings will be restricted to household members only as of 12:01 a.m. on Saturday. Those who live alone can join one other household exclusively.
When it comes to capacity at big-box retailers, there will be a cap of 25 per cent.
Ford also ordered the immediate closure of recreational amenities, including playgrounds, tennis courts, golf courses, basketball courts, and soccer and baseball fields.
Effective at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, religious services, weddings and funerals will be limited to 10 people indoors.
Solicitor General Sylvia Jones told reporters checks will be put in place at the Manitoba and Quebec borders effective as of 12:01 a.m. on Monday. Visitors will be prohibited from entering and exiting Ontario with the exception of essential purposes such as work, medical care and the transportation of goods.
The Government of Quebec announced on Friday it would close its borders with Ontario in an effort to tighten movement between the provinces. The province’s public safety minister said in a statement on Twitter discussions are underway between the Quebec and Ontario governments.
To enforce the measures unveiled by the government, Jones said police and bylaw officers will now be able to stop motorists and pedestrians to ask them where they live and why they’re not at home. The new police regulations drew immediate condemnation from civil liberties activists.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association said granting police the authority to stop and question anyone at random risks a “rash of racial profiling.”
“Random police stops during COVID are unconstitutional, presuming those outdoors or driving to be guilty,” Michael Bryant, head of the CCLA, said.
Ford also called on the federal government to “immediately tighten up international borders.”
Labour, Training and Skills Development Minister Monte McNaughton said the province will be shutting down non-essential construction on projects such as shopping malls, hotels and office towers.
“However there are still projects that are critical to our health like building our homes, hospitals, assessment centres and long-term care homes and we need to ensure those on these sites are being kept safe,” McNaughton said.
Beginning on Friday, McNaughton said 200 inspectors will be visiting more than 1,300 construction sites over the four weeks to ensure public health measures are in place.
He added law firms, accounting offices and other locations where employees could potentially work from home will also be inspected.
Meanwhile, during the news conference, Ford repeatedly blamed a lack of vaccine supply for the situation the province is in and announced officials will be boosting supply in hot spots by 25 per cent. However, Ford did not elaborate on how that plan will unfold.
“Would we be in this position if we were getting 300,000 vaccines back in February like the rest of the world? The answer is absolutely not. We wouldn’t be facing the crisis with ICUs, we wouldn’t be having shut down, we wouldn’t have the schools shut down,” he said.
“We need the vaccines … The feds need to get us the vaccines, bottom line.”
The new restrictions came as the provincial government unveiled new projection data on Friday indicating the only way to flatten the surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations is a six-week stay-at-home order and at least 100,000 doses of vaccine administered a day.
According to the documents, there has been a 67 per cent growth in hospitalizations related to the virus and a 51 per cent growth in ICU occupancy.
Officials also noted under every scenario, more vaccinations mean a faster resolution to the COVID-19 crisis in the long run.
This is a developing story that will be updated throughout the day.
— With files from Gabby Rodrigues and The Canadian Press