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Ford declares second provincial emergency due to COVID-19 pandemic

Premier Doug Ford addresses the province of Ontario on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021 after declaring a second provincial emergency.

Citing the doubling of COVID-19 cases in the province of the past two weeks, Premier Doug Ford declared a second provincial State of Emergency on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021.

The move is also in response to 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,” the provincial government said.

“The system is on the brink of collapse” the Premier said, addressing the nation via YouTube and television.

“I’m not blaming anyone…only one thing is truly at fault, and that’s the virus.”

Speaking after Ford, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliot, disclosed that 41 Ontarians died from COVID-19 yesterday, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021.

As part of this announcement, the province is issuing stay-at-home orders and introducing “enhanced enforcement measures to reduce mobility.”

“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.”

Ford used a simple scenario as an example of how easily the transmission of COVID-19 can lead to serious consequences and even death, particularly among the elderly. If a young adult decides to sit down with a parent, unmasked, and transmits the virus to their parent, that parent can easily transmit the virus to a grandparent, who could very quickly end up in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU), the Premier explained.

“Everyone must stay home to save lives,” he said.

As such, effective Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 at 12:01 a.m., the provincial government is issuing a stay-at-home order requiring everyone to remain at home. Exceptions to this rule will include:

  • Going to the grocery store or pharmacy
  • Accessing health care services
  • Exercise
  • Essential work

For information on the impact of the emergency orders on City of Kingston services and amenities, click here.

The order and additional new and existing Public Health restrictions (see below) are aimed at limiting people’s mobility and reducing the number of daily contacts people have with those outside their 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, the provincial government said. These new measures will help stop the spread of COVID-19 as the province continues to rollout vaccines and “ramps up to mass vaccination when the federal government is able to provide the necessary supply to do so.”

Since the implementation of the province-wide 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, the province said. Escalating case counts have led to increasing hospitalization rates and ICU occupancy. This has resulted in cancellations of scheduled surgeries and procedures.

New Public Health restrictions

“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,” the province said in a press release.

“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. If community transmission of this variant occurs, Ontario could experience much higher case counts, ICU occupancy and mortality.”

In response, the provincial 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 or delivery.
    NOTE: According to the Office of the Premier, non-essential retail businesses can only be open for curbside pickup, and only between the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.
  • Non-essential construction is further restricted, including below-grade construction, exempting survey.

According to the province, these measures will come into effect between Tuesday January 12, 2021 and Thursday, January 14, 2021, including the provincial declaration of emergency under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA), orders under that Act, and amendments to regulations under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020. 

New enforcement measures

The Premier spoke of the need for more enforcement by police and bylaw officers moving forward.

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 such as a park or house, the province said.

Schools and 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 after-school programs can be offered when in-person instruction resumes. Schools in northern PHUs will continue to remain open.

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.

The government will also implement new health and safety measures in Ontario child care settings, such as enhanced screening to align with school requirements, voluntary participation in targeted testing and additional infection prevention and control measures to align with schools. These enhancements are in addition to the existing health and safety measures already being implemented in child care settings across the province.

Child care centres for non-school aged children will remain open, and emergency child care for school-aged children will end in approved PHU regions on January 22, 2021 as these elementary schools return to in-person learning. During this extended period of online learning, in areas where in-person elementary learning is suspended, emergency child care will continue for eligible families in regions subject to school closures, as identified by the Chief Medical Officer of Health.

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.

According to the province, 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 said.

As part of the campaign, inspectors will use a data-driven approach to focus on workplaces with reported COVID-19 outbreaks, manufacturing businesses, warehouses, distribution centres, food processing operations, construction projects and publicly accessible workplaces deemed essential, such as grocery stores. The Ministry is also using a new data-sharing program, in conjunction with the Ministry of Long-Term Care and the Retirement Regulatory Authority, to focus onsite inspections of long-term-care homes and retirement homes.

“In the unfortunate event that an employee becomes infected with COVID-19, they may be entitled to federally-funded paid sick leave of up to $500 a week for two weeks. Workers can also access Canada’s Recovery Caregiver Benefit of up to $500 per week for up to 26 weeks if they are unable to work because they must care for their child under 12 years old or a family member who needs supervised care,” the Ontario government said.

“Over the summer, the government enacted a new regulatory amendment that put non-unionized employees on Infectious Disease Emergency Leave during the COVID-19 outbreak any time their hours of work are temporarily reduced by their employer due to COVID-19, ensuring businesses aren’t forced to terminate employees after their ESA temporary layoff periods have expired. As part of the Safe Restart Agreement, the federal government is funding a temporary income support program that allows workers to take up to 10 days of leave related to COVID-19, preventing the risk of further spread in the workplace and allowing workers to focus on their health.”

The Premier implored Ontarians to take note of the new rules and adhere to them.

“I know the actions that we’ve announced today are difficult, but they’re absolutely necessary,” said Ford.

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