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Ontario extends stay-at-home order, tightens enforcement in bid to curb surging COVID-19 variants

Friday, April 16, 2021 @ 5:47 PM | By John Schofield

Faced with potentially catastrophic COVID-19 modelling projections, Ontario is extending its state of emergency and stay-at-home order effective immediately and implementing tougher public health restrictions in an effort to control the rampant spread of the disease variants.

The government stay-at-home order originally imposed April 8 for four weeks will now continue for at least six weeks, Premier Doug Ford announced in an April 16 news conference.

In addition, Ford announced the closure of all non-essential construction sites effective April 17 at 12:01 a.m. and new limits on shopping at essential retail stores to 25 per cent of capacity — down from 50 per cent. Outdoor gatherings with people outside an individual’s household will also be prohibited. As of April 19 at 12:01 a.m., attendance at religious services, weddings and funerals will also be limited to no more than 10 people.

The tighter restrictions will also see the closure of outdoor recreation facilities such as golf courses, playgrounds and basketball courts, and Ford said the government will increase enforcement powers for police and bylaw enforcement officers. Police will have the authority to ask anyone outside their home to explain their reason for leaving home and to provide their address. 

In an effort to limit interprovincial travel, Ford said Ontario will set up checkpoints on April 19 at its borders with Quebec and Manitoba. He also called on the federal government again to tighten controls on international travellers, especially the estimated 36,000 travellers he said are passing through Toronto’s Pearson airport every week.

In an April 16 statement on Twitter, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said, “It’s a Black Friday of rights slashing by Queen’s Park today, risking a rash of racial profiling and overbroad police powers, presuming everyone outside guilty until proven otherwise.

“The mobility rights restrictions fail to achieve constitutional proportionality,” it added.  

The government stopped short of introducing its own program for paid sick days, which many critics have called for.

“My friends, we’re losing the battle between variants and vaccines,” Ford said at the news conference, which was twice delayed. “The pace of our vaccine supply has not kept up with the spread of the new COVID variants. We are on our heels. But, if we dig in, remain steadfast, we can turn this around. We’re down, but by no means are we out.”

The news conference followed the release of the latest modelling figures from the province’s science advisory, which painted a dire picture of increasingly overwhelmed hospital ICUs. The revised modelling indicated Ontario could see more than 10,000 new COVID-19 cases per day by the end of May and COVID-19 ICU cases surpassing 1,000.

On April 16, the province reported 4,812 new COVID-19 cases, surpassing the previous record of 4,736 posted on April 15. It also announced that 25 more Ontarians have died of the disease, pushing the average daily death toll to 22, up from 15 on April 9. The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care reached a new high of 701, while the positivity rate for COVID-19 testing increased to 8.2 per cent from 6.3 per cent April 9.

Ontario has reached out to other provinces for additional medical personnel. And at a press conference April 16, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that his government was “standing by” to deploy the Canadian Red Cross’ mobile vaccination teams to help with vaccination efforts in Ontario.

“This is about getting doses to people where the situation is most serious,” he said. Ottawa is “extremely preoccupied” with the situation in the province, said Trudeau.

“We look forward to delivering any and all supports that they need,” he said. “There have also been discussions about health care resources from other provinces turning towards Ontario. These are all things that we are working very hard on right now.”

In an April 16 interview with CBC News Network, Dr. Kali Barrett, a critical care physician with Toronto’s University Heath Network, called the current situation in ICUs “devastating” and that too much emphasis has been placed on “priorities of the economy.” She said that simply adding additional ICU beds will not solve the problem.

With files from Ian Burns

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