Province issues stay-at-home order as COVID cases surge
With hospital intensive care units reaching capacity in parts of the province, Premier Doug Ford issued a stay-at-home order Wednesday and declared a province-wide state of emergency for the third time since the COVID-19 pandemic began more than a year ago.
The order was set to come into effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday and will remain in place for at least four weeks, Ford said.
“Please stay at home unless it is for an essential reason,” he said during a press conference.
Ontarians are being told to remain at home except for essential purposes, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services (including getting vaccinated), for outdoor exercise, or for work that cannot be done remotely.
The move significantly tightens pandemic restrictions put in place less than a week ago. That earlier shutdown was widely criticized as being ineffective against rising case counts and more dangerous variants of concern.
In recent days, doctors, mainly from the Toronto area, have gone on social media to talk about critically ill patients who are younger and sicker than seen earlier in the pandemic, due to variants of concern. Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children has offered space for adult ICU patients to assist overflowing hospitals in the city.
The new order only allows stores selling essential goods to remain open during the four-week period and will include limits to shopping in big box stores, a move small independent retailers have been urging the government to do for some time but one that hasn’t been done in previous lockdowns. Big box stores can only sell essential goods like groceries, pharmaceuticals and personal care items.
All other retailers can offer curbside pickup only between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.
Retailers considered essential can open for in-store shopping by appointment only. These include medical device supply and repair shops, optical stores and auto mechanics.
Schools and child care will remain open for in-person care and learning in public health regions where it is permitted, with strict safety measures in place.
All gatherings of any size indoors are now prohibited and outdoor gatherings are limited to five people.
Ford said that by the end of the four-week period of the stay-at-home order, about 40 per cent of Ontarians – or five million people – will have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. About 2.7 million people had received at least one dose as of Wednesday.
“The situation is extremely serious. We need to hunker down right now,” Ford said at a briefing in Toronto.
“What we do until we start achieving mass immunization will be the difference between life and death for thousands of people,” he said.