On March 17, 2020, Ontario Premier Doug Ford held a press conference to announce an escalation in Ontario’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic by declaring a State of Emergency in Ontario. Premier Ford was joined by Finance Minister Rod Phillips; Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott; Solicitor General Sylvia Jones; and Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams. In addition to ordering the closure of a number of facilities, Premier Ford announced $300 million in support for Ontario’s health care system.
Ontario State of Emergency
Premier Ford invoked the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act in order to declare a State of Emergency in Ontario. Invoking this Act gives the cabinet broad powers, including the ability to close “any place, whether public or private, including any business, office, school, hospital or other establishment or institution.”
By declaring a State of Emergency in Ontario, Premier Ford ordered a prohibition on gatherings of more than 50 people and the closure of the following, effective immediately, until March 31, 2020:
- Places of worship;
- Indoor recreation facilities;
- Public libraries;
- Private schools;
- Licensed childcare centres;
- Bars and restaurants, except for take-out and delivery;
- All theatres including cinemas and venues for live performances and concerts.
Premier Ford emphasized that the State of Emergency does not constitute a provincial shutdown and that essential services and businesses, such as grocery stores, shopping malls, and pharmacies, will not be affected by this order. The Premier also explained that the decision to declare a State of Emergency was not made lightly and was reached in order to allow the Government of Ontario to offer its full support to the health care sector.
The timing of today’s announcement means that bars and restaurants will not open for St. Patrick’s Day, to further prevent the spread of COVID-19.
COVID-19 Emergency Relief Package
In addition to declaring a State of Emergency, Premier Ford announced $300 million as the first stage of an emergency relief package for sectors affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The $300 million, which is a combination of allocated federal and provincial funds, is directed at Ontario’s health care sector and includes the following:
- 75 critical care beds;
- 500 post-acute care beds;
- 17 self-assessment centres;
- Purchase of personal protective equipment for health care workers, such as masks, gloves, and surgical gowns;
- Purchase of additional ventilators;
- 24/7 support for health screening in long-term care homes, as well as funding for additional staff and cleaning supplies;
- Funding to backfill 1000 nurses and 1000 personal support workers;
- Support for primary care in Indigenous, northern and remote communities.
When asked about the capacity of Ontario’s health care system to manage a spike in COVID-19 cases, Minister Elliott pointed to today’s announcement, which will create more bed space. Minister Elliott stressed that the government’s efforts to promote social distancing are important in preventing a situation where vast numbers of COVID-19 patients require hospitalization.
Minister Elliott also clarified that Ontario is not currently considering allowing out-of-province medical workers to practice in the province as a way of easing the strain on Ontario’s health care system, however, she is open to considering this idea as the situation progresses.
Support for Business and Workers
When asked about support for businesses that will be forced to close, Premier Ford said that Minister Phillips is working with his federal counterpart, Finance Minister Bill Morneau, on relief packages for small businesses.
Premier Ford also called on the federal government to make immediate reforms to Employment Insurance (EI), such as expanding EI eligibility to support workers affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
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