Today, the Ontario government, in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health and other health experts, took action to limit mobility and reduce transmission. Specifically, the Province is declaring a second provincial emergency under s 7.01 (1) of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA)and the government is issuing a stay-at-home order (residents must stay at home except to go outside the house for specified essential purposes).
This second State of Emergency comes into effect tomorrow (Jan. 13) and is expected to remain in place for at least 28 days (i.e. to Feb. 9). The stay-at-home order is effective Thursday, January 14 at 12:01 a.m. To implement these additional public health measures amendments will be made to regulations under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020, as well as regulations issued under the EMCPA.
As promised by Premier Ford last week, new COVID-19 modelling data was presented by the Science Advisory and Modelling Consensus Tables. This data shows dangerous widespread community transmission across the province and confirms more public health and workplace safety measures are needed since the Provincewide Shutdown in place since Dec. 26 has not had the expected impact. Cases of COVID-19 continue to escalate and mortality is increasing. More details of the modelling data are summarized below.
Additional Public Health Restrictions
- Outdoor organized public gatherings and social gatherings are further restricted to a limit of five people with limited exceptions.
- Individuals are required to wear a mask in indoor areas of businesses that are open. It is now recommended that masks be worn outdoors when physical distancing is difficult to maintain.
- All non-essential retail stores, including hardware stores, alcohol retailers, and those offering curbside pick up or delivery, must open no earlier than 7 a.m. and close no later than 8 p.m.
- Stores that primarily sell food, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores, and restaurants for takeout or delivery can maintain their normal hours of operation.
- Any business that can have its employees work from home should shift to that model.
- Non-essential construction is further restricted (details below).
In addition, Ontario is exploring options to put a temporary residential eviction moratorium in place. More details will be made available soon. Short-term rentals, including those pre-booked, are no longer permitted unless to provide housing.
- Construction projects and/or services:
- Associated with the healthcare and long-term care sectors.
- Required to ensure safe and reliable operations of, or to provide new capacity in provincial and municipal infrastructure.
- That support the operations of and provide new capacity in schools, colleges, universities and childcare centres (defined by Child Care and Early Years Act, 2014).
- Under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program.
- That support the operations of Broadband and cellular technologies and services.
- Critical industrial construction activities required for:
- Maintenance and operations of petrochemical plants and refineries;
- Significant industrial petrochemical projects where preliminary work has already commenced; and
- Industrial construction and modification to existing industrial structures, limited to work necessary for the production, maintenance and/or enhancement of Personal Protective Equipment, medical devices and other identified products directly related to combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Construction projects that are due to be completed by July 2021 and would provide additional capacity in the production, processing, manufacturing or distribution of food, beverages or agriculture products.
- Construction projects that were started by January 12, 2021 and provide additional capacity for businesses that provide logistical support, distribution services, warehousing or shipping and delivery.
- Residential construction where:
- A footing permit has been granted for single family, semi-detached and townhomes;
- Project is a condominium, mixed use or other residential building; or
- The project involves renovations to residential properties and construction work was started before January 12, 2021.
- Meets one of the other specifications identified.
New Enforcement Measures
- The EMCPA will provide all enforcement and provincial offences officers (Ontario Provincial Police, local police forces, bylaw officers and provincial workplace inspectors) with the authority to issue tickets to individuals who do not comply with the stay-at-home-order, or those not wearing a mask. This is in addition to tickets that can be issued to retail operators or companies who do not enforce mask use.
- Enforcement personnel will have the authority to temporarily close a premise and disperse individuals who are gathering, regardless of whether a premise is closed or remains open (park or house).
- The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development will be providing additional educational material for workplaces to promote safe behaviour before, during and after work.
- Workplace inspections will focus on areas for high transmission, including break rooms.
Schools and Child Care Centres
- Schools in the following public health units will not return to in-person instruction until at least February 10, 2021:
- Peel Region
- The Chief Medical Officer of Health will advise the Ministry of Education which public health units will be permitted to resume in-person instruction by January 20, 2021, based on data and modelling.
- Schools in northern public health units will continue to remain open.
- Additional health and safety measures were also announced for in-person learning. See details here.
Data and Modelling
- Without significant reductions in contacts, the health system will be overwhelmed, and mortality will exceed the first wave before enough of the population is vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.
- Growth in cases has accelerated and was as high as 7% on the worst days. Cases are rising in all regions of the province.
- Testing positivity rate across all public health units is now above the control level (a positivity rate of greater or equal or 2.5%). Positivity rate is increasing across all age groups.
- COVID-19 ICU occupancy is now over 400 beds and surgeries are already being cancelled. Projections suggest COVID-19 ICU occupancy will be around 500 in mid-January and could be over 1,000 beds by mid-February. This will increase the access to care deficit and health consequences for all patients, including those with COVID-19.
- Currently 40% of long-term care homes have active COVID-19 outbreaks and outbreaks are located in all regions of the province. Since January 1st, 198 LTC residents and 2 LTC staff have died of COVID-19. Forecasts suggest more deaths may occur in LTC in the second wave than occurred in the first wave.
- The UK variant (B117) is already in Ontario. There is concern that community transmission of this variant, which is more transmissible, could lead to higher case counts, higher ICU occupancy and greater mortality.
Making Sense of it All
Judging by the reaction of pundits and journalists in media and social media, there are a multitude of questions that will likely be answered in the next few days. As is often the case, many of the details will follow in the next few days. For example, if individuals are only allowed to leave home for essential reasons (food, medication and health care), why are non-essential businesses allowed to remain open until 8 p.m. for curb side pick up? Who will be going there?
While much of this appears confusing at first glance, what is abundantly clear is that Ontario’s COVID numbers are all bad, and getting worse, so the provincial government had to act.
Despite much speculation about a Quebec-style curfew, the government decided not to do so. Premier Ford attempted to explain the difference between a curfew and a stay-at-home order during his media event; it seems to be a nuanced difference that pertains to the time of day and how quickly law enforcement will act when a person is deemed to leave their home (this question was also asked repeatedly today). Notwithstanding the apparent inconsistencies, the government has made its decisions and we are endeavouring to provide our clients with as much clarity as we can.
Remember too that the government can revisit, rescind or revise its decisions as circumstances warrant; therefore, we advise that while these new measures must be adhered to, there really is no permanence to them.
As always, feel free to contact your Sussex consultant for further information.