Ontario Premier Doug Ford has declared a state of emergency in Ontario to enhance social distancing measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. It has become clear in media reports that many bars and restaurants were remaining open and that many individuals were not staying away from these kinds of close quarters environments. It is likely not coincidental that this announcement has been made early on St. Patrick’s Day to ensure that these facilities are closed today.
The Premier’s comments were designed to be both a serious warning and a call to action, while at the same time an attempt to calm the community in these unprecedented times.
Premier Ford was very clear in stating that this was not a provincial shutdown. Essential services, such as grocery and convenience stores, pharmacies, public transit, manufacturing, construction, and office buildings will continue to operate at this time. The Premier emphasized the critical need to maintain the supply chain and have manufacturers continue to operate during this period. He also reinforced that there was no need for panic shopping.
Complementing today’s measures was the announcement of the first phase of Ontario’s COVID-19 relief package, pushing $304 million into bolstering health care front lines. With additional measures to support people and businesses to come, the measures are intended to instill confidence that the Province has the financial resiliency and capacity to weather this storm.
Ontario’s Emergency Order
Effective today, Ontario’s emergency measures enhance social distancing:
- Prohibition of organized public events over 50 people, including in places of worship
- Immediate closure of indoor recreation facilities, public libraries, private schools, licensed childcare centres, bars and restaurants, and all theatres, cinemas and concert venues
- Restaurants and bars can remain open to provide takeout food and delivery
These measures remain in place for two weeks, ending March 31, but can be extended for an additional two weeks if circumstances warrant. After that, the Ontario government will need to seek approval of the Legislature to enforce continued emergency management measures.
First Phase of Ontario’s COVID-19 Emergency Relief
The Ontario government also announced the first phase of its emergency relief package, investing $304 million in front line health care:
- $100 million for increased capacity in hospitals to assist with the effective treatment of COVID-19 patients both in critical care and medicine beds
- $50 million for more testing and screening through public health, including additional funding to support extraordinary costs incurred to monitor, detect and contain COVID-19 in the province. This includes contact tracing, increased laboratory testing capacity and home testing
- $50 million to further protect frontline workers, first responders and patients by increasing the supply of personal protective equipment and other critical supplies and equipment to protect them
- $25 million to support frontline workers working in COVID-19 assessment centres, including the creation of a new fund to provide respite care, childcare services and other supports as they are needed
- $50 million for long-term care homes to support 24/7 screening, additional staffing to support infection control and additional supplies
- $20 million for residential facilities in developmental services, gender-based services and protective care for children and youth to support additional staffing, respite for caregivers impacted by school closures, personal protective equipment and supplies and transportation costs to minimize client exposure and to support social distancing, as well as additional cleaning costs
- $5 million to protect seniors in retirement homes through increased infection control and active screening procedures
- $4 million for Indigenous communities to support transportation costs for health care professionals and the distribution of critical supplies
The Premier emphasized that this was the first phase of a broader support package for Ontario, saying that the government would spare no expense for Ontario. Finance Minister Rod Phillips commented that additional fiscal measures, including support for small business, are expected to be coming in the next few days.
The Premier also expects to work with the federal government to establish a loan program to support businesses and encouraged the speedy adoption of reforms to bring about ‘instant’ Employment Insurance benefits to support workers affected by the outbreak.