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Ontario declares second state of emergency, stay-at-home order as COVID-19 numbers soar

Tuesday, January 12, 2021 @ 4:46 PM | By John Schofield

With new COVID-19 cases on track to overwhelm Ontario’s health-care system, the province has declared its second state of emergency since the start of the pandemic and a stay-at-home order effective Jan. 14 at 12:01 a.m.

While stopping short of a Quebec-style curfew, a Jan. 12 government news release said the stay-at-home order will only allow Ontarians to leave their homes for essential tasks such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health-care services, for exercise or for essential work.

The government also announced that schools in the hot zone areas of Toronto, Peel Region, York Region, Windsor-Essex and Hamilton will not return to in-person classes until at least Feb. 10. In school settings, the government said it will impose mandatory masking for students in Grades 1 to 3, including outdoors, as well as enhanced screening protocols and expanded targeted testing.

The government said it will also implement new health and safety measures in Ontario childcare settings, such as enhanced screening to align with school requirements.

Epidemiological modelling released at a Jan. 12 news conference projected that, without a significant reduction in person-to-person contacts, deaths from COVID-19 during the second wave could exceed fatalities during the first wave — even before the vaccination program has time to take effect.

The state of emergency, imposed in consultation with chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, is being implemented under s 7.0.1 (1) of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMPCA).

Under the added public health measures, outdoor organized public gatherings and social gatherings will be restricted to five people, down from 10. Business hours for non-essential retail stores, including hardware stores, alcohol retailers and those offering curbside pickup or delivery, will be limited to 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. However, the restricted hours of operation do not apply to food stores, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores and restaurants for takeout or delivery. Non-essential construction will also be restricted.

Wearing a mask or face covering in the indoor areas of businesses or organizations that are open will be mandatory, and the government is also recommending the use of masks or face coverings outdoors when it is not possible to stay more than two metres away from others.

Under the declaration of a provincial emergency, all enforcement and provincial offences officers, including the Ontario Provincial Police, local police forces, bylaw officers and provincial workplace inspectors, will be granted the authority to issue tickets to individuals who do not comply with the stay-at-home-order, those not wearing a mask, and retailers or companies who do not enforce public health regulations. Those who do not follow the public health 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 business or organization and disperse individuals who are in contravention of an order and will be able to disperse people who are gathering, regardless of whether a premise has been closed or remains open such as a park or house.

The government also announced the launch of its Stay Safe All Day campaign, focusing on workplace inspections in areas of high transmission, including break rooms, and providing new educational materials to employers to promote safe behaviour at work.

The government also announced that it is “exploring” putting a temporary residential evictions moratorium in place and will provide more information in the coming days.

“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,” Premier Doug Ford said in the news release. “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.”

But Andrea Horwath, leader of the official opposition NDP, dismissed the government plan as “deadly half-measures,” pointing out that the government did not announce any new measures to protect long-term care homes, which account for most of the COVID-19 deaths.

In addition, she noted in a Jan. 12 news release, no changes were made to big box stores or most workplaces, no paid sick days were introduced, and no new supports were provided for workers or businesses.

“According to the government’s own medical advice, more people are going to suffer and die as a result of Doug Ford’s refusal to act — his refusal to invest in more protections and to close loopholes,” she said in the news release. “Hospitals are in the process of being overwhelmed, and long-term care homes are in the grips of a deadly crisis. Thousands more people are getting sick every single day. The half-measures and loopholes must stop.”

The NDP demanded a number of additional measures, including a ban on evictions, restricting non-essential travel between regions and at least 10,000 more staff in long-term care, including infection prevention and control experts in every nursing home.

The Ontario Federation of Labour expressed shock that the government’s emergency measures do not include guaranteed paid sick days.

“Health experts have said loud and clear: paid sick days save lives,” OFL president Patty Coates said in a Jan. 12 news release. “It is appalling that Ford’s government continues to refuse to act on this common sense advice.”

On Twitter, Naheed Dosani, an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Family Medicine at McMaster University also expressed caution about the emergency measures.

“Low-income racialized people (many are essential workers) have a history of being over-policed,” he tweeted. “They’ve also been hardest hit by #COVID19. We can’t police our way out of this pandemic.”

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