As Ontario released new modelling today demonstrating rapid growth in cases (over 7% on worst days), 400 ICU beds occupied, and the risk of the new COVID strain (with its rapid doubling time for cases) overwhelming the public health system with case counts projected to exceed 10,000 per day, Premier Doug Ford announced new lockdown measures, including the declaration of an immediate state of emergency for at least 28 days. Ford also warned Ontarians that the “system is on the brink of collapse.”
Ontario is implementing a “stay-at-home” order, effective Thursday, January 14 at 12:01am, with the exception of essential trips such as buying food, attending medical appointments, exercise, and travel for those who work in an essential business. The province has also acknowledged that asking Ontarians to stay at home voluntarily has not worked, with an estimated one-third of the population are ignoring public health guidelines. Under the stay-at-home order, all businesses must ensure that any employee who can work from home do so.
As a result of these new measures and the need to reduce case numbers, inspection and enforcement will be increased:
- Under the State of Emergency, the province is giving powers to all enforcement and by-law officers, including the OPP, local police, by-law officers, and provincial workplace inspectors the powers to disperse people and issue fines of up to $100,000 and up to one year of jail
- Enforcement personnel will have the ability to temporarily close a premise and disperse individuals if they are in contravention of an order, even if the premise is a park or a home
- With questions about whether today’s actions consist of a “curfew” along the lines of what Quebec has implemented, Ford suggested that a “curfew is a hard lockdown” and that he didn’t want to see “police chasing down people”.
- The Premier has promised an “inspection blitz” of big-box stores in the coming days, with the promise to “come down hard on bad actors”, after media reported major crowds and line-ups at certain locations over the last few weeks
Non-essential retail stores, such as hardware stores, alcohol retailers, or anywhere offering curbside pickup and delivery, must open no earlier than 7am and close no later than 8pm. However, these hours do not apply to stores that sell food, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores, and restaurants for takeout/delivery. Masks continue to be required in indoor areas of businesses that are open.
Outdoor public and social gatherings will also be restricted along the lines of what was implemented in spring of 2020, with numbers limited to five people.
Schools will remain closed until Feb. 10 in Windsor-Essex, Peel Region, Toronto, York, and Hamilton. By January 20, the Chief Medical Officer of Health will advise where and when schools can begin to re-open. For those schools that remain open, masking for Grades 1-3 and outdoor masking, with expanded screening and targeting will be implemented.
What It Means
It is clear from the latest modelling that the numbers projected by public health authorities could overwhelm Ontario’s health-care system. While vaccines provide hope on the horizon, and 130,000 doses of vaccine have been administered, it could be months before Ontario’s population nears a level of vaccination required to implement herd immunity.
The next four weeks will be crucial for Ontario’s numbers – if the impact on the health-care system can be stabilized and then reduced, increased vaccination has the hope of helping break what is currently raging in the system. But that requires needles in arms sooner rather than later, and all provinces rely on federal procurement to make that happen.