What does a “stay at home” order mean? Which businesses are still considered essential? Is life going to change now that Ontario has declared a second state of emergency? And when does the new lockdown period start?
The people of Toronto have questions — lots of them — following Premier Doug Ford’s announcement Tuesday afternoon of even more public health restrictions aimed at slowing the exponential spread of COVID-19.
And for good reason: Things are still a bit… murky.
Details are still being rolled out by government officials as of late Tuesday, and a formal list of rules has yet to be released — but we do know some things for certain, one of which is that we’ve all been ordered to stay at home except for “essential purposes” beginning this Thursday.
“A state of emergency is in effect as of January 13 at 12:01 a.m. The COVID-19 Response Framework (colour-coded zones) is paused during this time,” reads a note at the top of the province’s public health measures breakdown.
“The guidance on this page is being updated to reflect the new restrictions and public health measures. The out-of-date content will be changed shortly.”
While the newly-declared state of emergency will come into effect this evening, Ontario’s new stay-at-home order will become effective at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, January 14.
As of Thursday, everyone in Toronto (like all of Ontario) is required to remain in their homes “with exceptions for essential purposes, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services, for exercise or for essential work.”
“In addition to limiting outings to essential trips, all businesses must ensure that any employee who can work from home, does work from home,” reads a release from the government issued on Tuesday after Ford’s afternoon press conference.
The following additional public health measures will come into effect no later than January 14, according to the province, and are necessary to “further interrupt the deadly trend of transmission in Ontario communities, hospitals, and long-term care homes.”
- Outdoor organized public gatherings and social gatherings are further restricted to a limit of five people with limited exceptions. This is consistent with the rules during the lockdown during the first wave of COVID-19 in spring 2020 and will allow individuals and families to enjoy time outdoors safely.
- Individuals are required to wear a mask or face covering in the indoor areas of businesses or organizations that are open. Wearing a mask or face covering is now recommended outdoors when you can’t physically distance more than two metres.
- All non-essential retail stores, including hardware stores, alcohol retailers, and those offering curbside pickup or delivery, must open no earlier than 7 a.m. and close no later than 8 p.m. The restricted hours of operation do not apply to stores that primarily sell food, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores, and restaurants for takeout or delivery.
- Non-essential construction is further restricted, including below-grade construction, exempting survey.
- Schools in Toronto (as well as Windsor-Essex, Peel Region, York and Hamilton) will remain closed for in-person learning until at least February 10.
These measures are in addition, of course, to those already in place as part of the ongoing provincewide lockdown.
Confused? You’re not alone, but the government is expected to provide more detailed information to the public soon.
The government was pretty clear right out the gate about cracking down on offenders, however.
New expanded enforcement measures announced today include giving all officers “including the Ontario Provincial Police, local police forces, bylaw officers, and provincial workplace inspectors” the power to issue tickets for non-compliance.
Tickets can be issued to anyone who is found defying the stay-at-home-order, not wearing a mask or face covering indoors, or otherwise not abiding by the rules as laid out in the Reopening Ontario Act.
All enforcement personnel will also now have the authority to “temporarily close a premise and disperse individuals who are in contravention of an order” and disperse people who are gathering anywhere.”
Read: They can tell you to scram if you’re standing near more than five other people in a park… or just at a park without a clear “essential” reason for being there.
Toronto Mayor John Tory expressed support for the stay at home order and other measures following the provincial government’s news conference.
“I have been calling for further action, based on the advice of Toronto Public Health, and I want to thank Premier Ford and his cabinet for listening to public health experts and taking some additional needed actions,” said Tory in a statement.
“I support the Stay At Home order, the extension of at-home learning for students in Toronto, and extended mask wearing — these are right things to do.”
“The City is working to quickly review all the measures and regulations introduced by the province and will immediately implement any changes needed to municipal services,” said Tory.
“The message from the province is very clear today, Ontario’s COVID numbers are going in the wrong direction – like many other jurisdictions around the world – and could very quickly get much worse meaning even more people becoming infected, even more people being hospitalized, and even more people tragically dying in our communities.”
“Every alarm bell has now been rung. People need to take action in their own lives to help stop the spread of COVID-19 to protect themselves and their families and to keep our healthcare system from being dramatically overwhelmed,” the mayor continued.
“Please do everything you can to stay home as much as possible right now.”