Ontario has declared a third state of emergency since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and will be enforcing a stay-at-home order as of Tuesday.
Premier Doug Ford made the announcement on Wednesday after hours of discussion with the provincial cabinet.
The stay-at-home order will commence at 12:01 a.m Thursday and will continue for 28 days.
“I can’t stress this enough. Things are extremely, extremely serious right now. And I’m extremely concerned,” Ford told reporters at an afternoon news conference.
“The situation is evolving rapidly, hour by hour. And as things change, as we learn more about these deadly new variants, as we see new problems arise, we need to adapt. We need to move quickly and decisively.
“And right now, above all else, our plan is to get needles in the arms and protect our hospitals. That’s why, today, on the advice of the chief medical officer of health I’m declaring a state of emergency.”
During this time, all non-essential retailers will shit to in-person shopping, in-person dining won’t be permitted and gyms and personal care services will be closed too. Retailers will be able to provide curbside pickup and delivery services between 7 a.m and 8 p.m.
Big box stores will be permitted to continue running but only to sell essential goods. Shopping malls will be limited to curbside pickup through appointment and delivery.
A select group of stores will be permitted to remain open by appointment only with a 25% capacity limit. This includes businesses that majorly sell, rent or repair assistive devices, supply stores, rental and leasing services such as automobiles and equipment, businesses that sell motor vehicles and boats, optical stores that sell prescription eyewear, vehicle and equipment repair, and retail stores run by a telecom provider or services.
Apart from the closure of most businesses, the stay-at-home order prohibits persons from leaving their place of residence, except for essential reasons like work, school, trips to the pharmacy or grocery store, and for health-care reasons.
“To boil it down as simple as possible, folks please stay home unless it is for an essential reason,” Ford added. “The situation is extremely serious and we just need to hunker down right now, we need to limit mobility.”
Premier Ford went on to say that the province does not “have enough police officers to chase people down”, but asked everyone to obey the stay-at-home directive.
Elsewhere, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones told reporters at Queen’s Par that the orders “will be enforced.”
“It is critical now more than ever that people adhere to the orders and follow public health measures,” Jones said.
The province won’t be closing schools and child-care places throughout the stay-at-home directive, despite the fact that three of the region’s public health units, Peel Region, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, and Toronto, have already done so.
“It will not involve any closures of schools,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Wednesday morning. “It was our promise to keep schools open and to keep them safe.”
The stay-at-home order comes following the region was placed into a lockdown on Saturday, which banned all in-person dining, personal care services and fitness facilities. Retail stores were all allowed to continue running with strict capacity limits.
Officials said at the time they were not giving a stay-at-home order since it produced “tremendous ill effect on both children and adults.”
Since then, the Ford administration has been criticized by hundreds of Ontario doctors and medical officers of health for not doing enough to curb the spread of COVID-19 variants.
On April 4, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa, Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches and Peel Region’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh sent a letter to the province asking them to enforce a region-wide stay-at-home order.
Ford said he acted right away once ICU patients exceeded 500
The premier said on Wednesday that he took action the moment he found out that there were over 500 COVID-19 patients in Ontario care sites.
“The ICU has taken off, the capacity in the ICU of these variants have taken off even beyond what they told us. The second I found out yesterday, immediately, I asked (Dr. David Williams) to start writing up the orders.”
Ontario has said that once there are 300+ COVID-19 patients in ICUs, care not related to the disease becomes difficult to handle.
The rise in COVID-19 patients in the ICU is expected. Doctors have been issuing cautions over the last month that the healthcare system is being affected by the super-contagious COVID-19 variants.
In modeling data published Mar. 11, health experts said that in the best-case scenario, there might be 400 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.
Less than 30 days later on Apr. 1, Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table showed that even with the stay-at-home directive, the province might record up to 800 COVID patients in ICUs by the conclusion of the month.
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health defended the administration’s move to enforce the stay-at-home order now, unlike making it part of the initial lockdown.
“I think what is misinterpreted is that by implementing stay-at-home order now, that things have not been done or undertaken up until now, that’s totally incorrect,” he said.
“We have implemented our framework all the way through. We have continually moved our health units into higher levels of limitation and lockdown.”
Earlier this April, over 150 doctors drafted a letter to the provincial government asking them to halt using intensive care capacity as a foundation in their lockdown plans.
“Ontario is at a critical point in the pandemic, and we are being led down a very dangerous path by using ICU capacity as a benchmark for tolerance of COVID-19 spread,” the letter said.
“Even if we had unlimited ICU capacity, allowing these variants of concern to spread exponentially is unethical.”
The last time Ontario gave a stay-at-home order was in January after the winter holidays. Back then, there were 386 patients in the province’s intensive care units.
On Wednesday, the province confirmed 3,215 additional cases of COVID-19 and 17 more deaths. Ontario’s 7-day average for the number of cases confirmed now stands at 2,987, up from 2,316 the previous week.
A total of 370, 817 COVID-19 positive cases have been recorded in Ontario, with 7,475 deaths and 335, 983 recoveries confirmed.