February 8, 2021, Premier Doug Ford and Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, announced Ontario’s gradual return to the COVID-19 Response Framework (the Framework).
The province’s transition back to the Framework will begin on a regional basis this week when three public health units (PHUs) in Eastern Ontario return to the Green-Prevent level. For all other PHUs, Stay-at-Home orders will remain in effect until Tuesday, February 16, with the exception of Toronto, Peel, and York, which are expected to re-enter the Framework on Monday, February 22.
Premier Ford and Minister Elliott also announced revisions to the Framework, which now permit in-store shopping at non-essential retail stores at all levels, including Grey-Lockdown.
Premier Ford and Minister Elliott were joined by Solicitor General, Sylvia Jones, and Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams. Following today’s announcement, attendees responded to questions from media.
Yesterday, the government announced the expansion of emergency child care services to additional frontline workers in Toronto, Peel, and York. New additions to the list of those eligible include construction workers on essential projects that have been permitted to continue during the provincial shutdown, and transit workers who are unable to work remotely.
Ontario Announces Return to COVID-19 Response Framework
This afternoon, Premier Ford and Minister Elliott announced Ontario’s gradual return to the regional COVID-19 Response Framework, which was in effect prior to the province-wide shutdown. This decision was made in consultation with Dr. Williams and based on improving local trends of key indicators.
Minister Elliott and Dr. Williams emphasized that today’s announcement should not be interpreted as a ‘re-opening’ or a ‘return to normal’, but rather, as an acknowledgement that Ontario is making progress in combatting the second wave of COVID-19. Premier Ford added that the government would be prepared to take further action, in the event of another spike in cases.
Each PHU will be transitioned from the current shutdown, to a ‘revised and strengthened’ Framework when it is safe to do so. This transition will begin this Wednesday, February 10th when the following PHUs move back to the Framework at the Green-Prevent level:
- Hastings Prince Edward Public Health;
- Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health; and
- Renfrew County and District Health Unit.
Introduction of Regional Stay-at-Home Orders
The current shutdown will be maintained for one to two weeks in the majority of Ontario PHUs. To enable this, the current Stay-at-Home order (which applies province-wide) will be amended to separate regional orders applicable to each PHU, with the exception of the three regions above.
The final decisions about when a PHU will be permitted to transition to the Framework will be subject to public health trends and it is proposed that the majority of PHUs will transition to the Framework on February 16. The final PHUs to return to the Framework will be Toronto, Peel, and York, which are proposed to do so on February 22.
Final decisions have not yet been made on the classification of each PHU upon its return to the Framework. Once the last PHU returns to the Framework, further changes such as opening additional businesses or loosening public health and workplace measures, will be restricted for at least 28 days.
Expiration of Provincial Emergency
The provincial emergency declared on January 12 under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA) will not be extended past tomorrow, February 9. However, Ontarians are urged to continue to stay at home, and reminded to avoid social gatherings, minimize travel between regions, and limit close contacts. Employers in all industries are asked to continue to make every effort to allow employees to work from home.
Enforcement of residential evictions will remain paused in PHUs where a Stay-at-Home order is in effect.
Orders currently in force under the EMCPA have been extended until February 23, and may be extended further if necessary.
Revised and Strengthened COVID-19 Response Framework
Premier Ford and Minister Elliott also announced a number of revisions to strengthen the province’s Framework, in order to enable more businesses to safely reopen.
Key revisions to the Framework include:
- Permitting limited in-person shopping for non-essential items, including in Grey-Lockdown zones. For PHUs at the Grey-Lockdown level, capacity will be limited to 25% in most non-essential retail settings. This measure is intended to support economic recovery by allowing more retail businesses to open for in-person shopping.
- Strengthening public health and safety measures in retail settings at other levels of the Framework. This includes a requirement that individuals wear a face covering and maintain a physical distance when indoors in a business, with limited exceptions (Additional information on changes to retail measures can be found below).
- Requiring individuals to wear a face covering when attending an organized public event or gathering if they are within two metres of another individual not from their household. This requirement applies whether the gathering is indoors or outdoors.
- Implementing an “emergency brake” system within the Framework.This mechanism will allow for immediate action if a PHU experiences rapid acceleration of COVID-19 transmission or if its health care system risks becoming overwhelmed. Through the “emergency brake” system, Dr. Williams and a local medical officer of health may advise to immediately move a region into Grey-Lockdown.
New Measures for Retail Businesses
In light of last Friday’s Statistics Canada monthly employment release, which indicated that employment in Ontario decreased by 153,500 in January, the government has updated Ontario’s COVID-19 Response Framework to enable many retail businesses to safely reopen.
At the Grey-Lockdown level, in-person shopping for retail sales will be permitted, but subject to the following capacity limits:
- 50% capacity for supermarkets, other stores that primarily sell groceries, convenience stores, and pharmacies.
- 25% capacity for all other stores that engage in retail sales to the public, including big box stores.
At the Red-Control level, the following capacity limits will be in effect:
- 75% capacity for supermarkets, other stories that primarily sell groceries, convenience stores, and pharmacies.
- 50% capacity for all other retail businesses that engage in retail sales to the public, including big box stores.
The full list of new retail measures within the Framework is available here.
Questions from Media
Hydro Rate Relief
In response to questions about current hydro rate relief, through which hydro prices have been restricted to off-peak rates during the province-wide shutdown, Premier Ford confirmed that this measure will be extended.
Classification of Each PHU
When asked for a timeline as to when each PHU could expect a decision on its colour-coded classification within the provincial Framework, Minister Elliott said that the government is watching trends carefully. The government will specifically monitor trends in hospitalizations and related to the variants of concern, prior to making further decisions on PHU classification within the Framework.