January 12, 2021, Premier Doug Ford declared a second provincial emergency under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, in response to a doubling of COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks and severe risks to the provincial health and long-term care sectors.
In addition to the declaration of a provincial emergency, Premier Ford also announced that the government will be issuing a stay-at-home order for Ontario, effective Thursday, January 14 at 12:01 a.m. This order will require everyone to remain at home unless they are leaving for an essential purpose, such as visiting a grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services, exercising, or completing essential work. Businesses will also be required to ensure that all employees who are able to work from home do so.
Premier Ford also confirmed today that schools in five COVID-19 hotspots would not resume in-person learning until at least February 10, 2021. Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health will assess the safety of schools on an ongoing basis, and will provide recommendations to the Ministry of Education on which schools may resume in-person learning by January 20.
Premier Ford was joined by Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott; Solicitor General, Sylvia Jones; Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams; and Dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, Dr. Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown. Following this afternoon’s announcement, Premier Ford, Minister Elliott, and Minister Jones responded to questions from media.
Earlier today, Ontario released updated COVID-19 modelling data, which was presented by Dr. Brown. The updated modelling demonstrates dangerous trends associated with the growing spread of COVID-19 in Ontario, including the province-wide risk of an overwhelmed health care system and long-term care mortality exceeding the first wave.
Ontario Declares Second Provincial Emergency, Issues Stay-at-Home Order
This afternoon, in consultation with Dr. Williams, Premier Ford declared a second provincial emergency under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. The declaration of emergency is effective immediately and is expected to remain in place for a minimum of 28 days, or two two-week incubation periods of the virus.
In addition, a stay-at-home order for Ontario will take effect on Thursday, January 14, at 12:01 a.m. This order will require everyone to remain at home with exceptions for essential purposes such as visiting a grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services, exercising, or completing essential work. As a result, all businesses must ensure that any employee who is able to, works from home.
The following additional public health measures will also be implemented:
- Outdoor organized public gatherings and social gatherings will be further restricted to a limit of five people.
- Individuals are required to wear a mask or face covering in indoor areas of businesses or organizations that are open. Wearing a mask or face covering is now also recommended outdoors when physical distancing is not possible.
- Non-essential retail stores, including hardware stores, alcohol retailers, and those offering curbside pickup or delivery, are only permitted to be open between the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Restricted retail hours will not apply to grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores, gas stations, and restaurants for takeout or delivery.
- Non-essential construction is further restricted, including below-grade construction, exempting survey.
Today’s declaration of emergency and other measures are intended to limit Ontarians’ mobility and reduce daily contacts with those outside of one’s immediate household.
Testing in Key Sectors
According to Minister Elliott, the province will provide up to 300,000 rapid COVID-19 tests per week to quickly identify and isolate cases of COVID-19 in key sectors, including manufacturing, warehousing, supply chain, and food processing. Additional tests will also be provided to schools and long-term care homes. This volume of rapid tests will support antigen screening for up to 150,000 workers per week over the next 4-5 months in critical workplaces.
New Enforcement Measures
As a result of the new declaration of a provincial emergency, enforcement authorities (including provincial and local police, bylaw officers, and provincial workplace inspectors) will have the authority to issue tickets to individuals who do not comply with the stay-at-home order and mandatory mask requirement, as well as to businesses who do not enforce these orders.
Enforcement personnel will also have the authority to temporarily close a premise and disperse individuals who are in contravention of an order. This includes the power to disperse people who are gathering in a setting such as a park or home.
Extended School Closure in Hotspots, New Measures in Schools
Based on the advice of Dr. Williams, Premier Ford confirmed this afternoon that schools in the following public health units will not resume in-person learning until February 10 at the earliest:
- Peel Region
For schools in other Southern Ontario public health units, Dr. Williams will make recommendations to the Ministry of Education by January 20 on whether a return to in-person instruction will be permitted. Before- and after-school programs will resume at the same time as in-person learning.
Schools in Northern Ontario public health units will remain open.
The province is also putting in place the following new health and safety measures in schools:
- Masking for students in Grades 1-3 and requirements for mask wearing outdoors;
- Enhanced screening protocols;
- Expanded targeted testing.
The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development is launching the “Stay Safe All Day” campaign, focusing workplace inspections in areas of high transmission (including break rooms). The campaign will also provide employers with new educational materials to promote safe behaviour before, during, and after work.
Through the “Stay Safe All Day” campaign, inspectors will focus on workplaces with reported COVID-19 outbreaks, manufacturing businesses, warehouses, distribution centres, food processing operations, construction projects and publicly accessible essential workplaces (such as grocery stores).
Questions from Media
When asked about the difference between a curfew (which the Ontario government decided not to implement) and a stay-at-home order, Premier Ford responded that he has never been in favour of imposing a more restrictive curfew and that he has confidence Ontarians will follow the new orders and only leave their homes for essential reasons.
Reduced Non-Essential Retail Hours
In response to questions about whether the reduction in non-essential retail hours would lead to crowding, Premier Ford suggested that the province is planning an “inspection blitz,” especially for big box stores. He reiterated that there will be consequences for big box stores that are found not to be following provincial orders.
Ontario Releases Updated COVID-19 Modelling
This morning, Dr. Brown presented updated COVID-19 modelling data for Ontario, which he said demonstrated “dangerous” spread of COVID-19 in the province.
Key findings presented in today’s modelling update include:
- The number of cases of COVID-19 in Ontario is growing between 3 – 5% almost every day. On the worst days, case growth is over 7%.
- COVID-19 is widespread and is no longer limited to a single region or a small group of cities.
- Almost 40% of long-term care homes have active COVID-19 outbreaks. Forecasting suggests that there may be more deaths in the long-term care sector during the second wave than in the first wave.
- There are now more than 400 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units (ICUs). More than 50% of Ontario ICUs are full or have only 1-2 remaining beds.
- Under reasonable scenarios of 2 – 5% case growth, there will be approximately 1000 COVID-19 patients in ICU by early February. This will result in widespread cancellations of surgeries and other procedures.
- 14 cases of the new U.K. variant of COVID-19 (B117) have been detected in Ontario. Widespread community transmission of this more transmissible variant could lead to much higher case counts, hospitalizations, and ICU occupancy.
- A substantial number of Ontarians (approximately one third) are not acting in a way that will reduce the spread of COVID-19. Mobility levels of Ontarians are similar to those from July 2020, despite exponential growth in case numbers during this period.
- Without a significant reduction in the contacts of Ontarians, the health system will be overwhelmed and mortality will exceed the first wave totals before a vaccine has time to take effect.