Ontario Tightens The COVID-19 Screws

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Doug Ford and his ministers decide on the new emergency measures. Pic: Doug Ford

TORONTO: The Ontario government, in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health and other health experts, has declared a second provincial emergency under s 7.0.1 (1) of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMPCA).

The government said this was in response to a doubling in COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks, the real and looming threat of the collapse of the province’s hospital system and alarming risks posed to long-term care homes as a result of high COVID-19 transmission rates.

Details were provided on Tuesday by Premier Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health, and Dr. Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown, Co-Chair of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.

“The latest modelling data shows that Ontario is in a crisis and, with the current trends, our hospital ICUs will be overwhelmed in a few short weeks with unthinkable consequences,” said Premier Ford. “

That’s why we are taking urgent and decisive action, which includes declaring a provincial emergency and imposing a stay-at-home-order. We need people to only go out only for essential trips to pick up groceries or go to medical appointments. By doing the right thing and staying home, you can stay safe and save lives.”

The government’s stay-at-home order requiring everyone to remain at home with exceptions for essential purposes, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services, for exercise or for essential work came into effect on Thursday, January 14, 2021 at 12:01 a.m.

This order and other new and existing public health restrictions are aimed at limiting people’s mobility and reducing the number of daily contacts with those outside an immediate household.

In addition to limiting outings to essential trips, all businesses must ensure that any employee who can work from home, does work from home.

These new public health measures will help stop the spread of COVID-19 by reducing concerning levels of mobility as the province continues its vaccine rollout.

Additional Public Health
Restrictions
Since the implementation of the Provincewide Shutdown over two weeks ago, the latest modelling trends in key public health indicators have continued to worsen, forecasting an overwhelming of the health system unless drastic action is taken.

Provincial modelling shows growth in COVID-19 cases has accelerated, leading to increased hospitalization rates and ICU occupancy. ICU occupancy by COVID-19 patients is now over 400 beds and is projected to be as high as 1,000 beds by early February which has the potential to overwhelm Ontario’s hospitals.

The number of COVID-19-related deaths continues to rise and is expected to double from 50 to 100 deaths per day between now and the end of February. Notably, data shows that mobility and contacts between people have not decreased with the current restrictions. A new variant of COVID-19 emerged in November.

In response to the alarming and exceptional circumstances at hand, and to further interrupt the deadly trend of transmission in Ontario communities, hospitals, and long-term care homes, the government will enact the following public health measures:

• 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/delivery.

• Non-essential construction is further restricted, including below-grade construction, exempting survey. These measures will come into effect between Tuesday January 12, 2021 and Thursday, January 14, 2021, including the provincial declaration of emergency under the EMCPA, orders under that Act, and amendments to regulations under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020.

Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health said: “We have made great strides in vaccinating tens of thousands of Ontarians, and we can’t let these efforts go to waste. Urgent action is required to break this deadly trend of transmission, ensure people stay home, and save lives.”

To help quickly identify and isolate cases of COVID-19 in workplaces and service providers, the province will provide up to 300,000 COVID-19 tests per week to support key sectors such as manufacturing, warehousing, supply chain and food processing, as well as additional tests for schools and long-term care homes. This volume of rapid tests would support antigen screening for up to 150,000 workers per week over the next 4-5 months in Ontario’s most critical workplaces.

The province is expecting to receive 12 million Panbio tests from the federal government over the next several months.

“The trends in key public health indicators are continuing to deteriorate, and further action is urgently required to save lives,” said Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health.

“By strictly adhering to all public health and workplace safety measures, we can reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and keep our loved ones and our communities safe.”

The government knows that in order to keep Ontarians safe, it is important that they are not forced to leave their homes during the new state of emergency. Ontario is exploring all options available to put a temporary residential evictions moratorium in place, and will have more to say in the coming days. The additional public health restrictions introduced expand on existing measures.

Enforcement
Under the declaration of a provincial emergency, the province will provide authority to all enforcement and provincial offences officers, including the Ontario Provincial Police, local police forces, bylaw officers, and provincial workplace inspectors to issue tickets to individuals who do not comply with the stay-at home-order, or those not wearing a mask or face covering indoors as well as retail operators and companies who do not enforce.

Those who decide not to abide by orders will be subject to set fines and/or prosecution under both the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, (ROA) and EMCPA.

In addition, all enforcement personnel will have the authority to temporarily close a premise and disperse individuals who are in contravention of an order and will be able to disperse people who are gathering, regardless whether a premise has been closed or remains open.

“Extraordinary action is needed to protect the health and safety of Ontarians as we deal with this growing crisis,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones.

“Our government is providing police and bylaw officers with the tools, and the authority, they need to enforce these critical restrictions and protect public health.”

Schools/Child Care Centres Based on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, schools in the following public health units (PHUs) will not return to in-person instruction until February 10, 2021:
• Windsor-Essex
• Peel Region
• Toronto
• York
• Hamilton

By January 20, 2021, the Chief Medical Officer of Health will advise the Ministry of Education on which public health units (PHUs) will be permitted to resume in-person instruction, based on the most up-to-date data and modelling. Before- and afterschool programs can be offered when in-person instruction resumes. Schools in northern PHUs will continue to remain open.

To continue to keep students, staff and communities safe, the following new health and safety measures will be put in place for in-person learning:
• Masking for Grade 1-3 and requirements for mask-wearing outdoors;
• Enhanced screening protocols; and
• Expanded targeted testing.

Workplace Safety
The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development is taking additional steps to protect workers with the launch of the “Stay Safe All Day” campaign, focusing workplace inspections in areas of high transmission, including break rooms, and providing new educational materials to employers to promote safe behaviour before, during and after work.

Evidence gathered from COVID-19 related workplace inspections to date shows the vast majority of employers and workers are following COVID-19 safety requirements when working. However, when in a break room, a vehicle or not on the clock, there is a tendency to forget about the importance of wearing masks, maintaining physical distance and hand hygiene.

• The Government of Ontario declared its first provincial emergency in response to COVID 19 on March 17, 2020 which remained in effect until July 24, 2020 when the ROA was introduced. 47 emergency orders were made under the EMCPA.