The Ontario government has issued a stay-at-home order for the province beginning on Jan. 14 and has immediately declared a second state of emergency.
Premier Doug Ford announced on Tuesday at Queen's Park that the new stay-at-home order, which will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, will require everyone to remain at home, with the exception of essential purposes, such as going to the grocery store, pharmacy, accessing health-care services, exercising, or essential work.
The stay-at-home order will remain in effect for at least 28 days. Unless an outing is considered essential, Ontario residents are being ordered to stay home at all hours.
Under the declaration of a provincial emergency, the government is allowing all enforcement and provincial offence officers, including the Ontario Provincial Police, local police forces, bylaw officers, and provincial workplace inspectors, to issue tickets to those who do not comply with the stay-at-home order.
Ontarians caught violating the stay-at-home order could face a fine and prosecution under the Reopening Ontario Act and the Emergency Management and Civil Emergency Management (EMPCA).
Penalties for breaking the stay-at-home order could include up to a year in jail, according to Solicitor General Sylvia Jones.
"Let me be clear, if people are found not complying with these orders, they will be subject to fines and prosecution," Jones said. "We are taking the current situation very seriously and we ask that all Ontarians do the same."
As part of the new restrictions, non-essential employees who are currently working in-person will be required to work from home.
Schools staying closed in hot spots until Feb. 10
Schools in Toronto, York Region, Hamilton, Peel Region and Windsor-Essex will also not return to in-person learning until Feb. 10.
The government said that by Jan. 20, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams will advise the Ministry of Education on which regions will be permitted to resume in-person instruction, based on the most up-to-date data and modelling.
Schools in northern Ontario will remain open to in-person learning.
Students as young as Grade 1 will now be required to wear masks when attending in-person learning.
As part of the new rules, 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.
Outdoor organized public gatherings and social gatherings are further restricted to a limit of five people.
Non-essential construction is also further restricted, including below-grade construction.
Ontarians with secondary properties are being asked to avoid visiting them, unless the trip is considered necessary. Emergency maintenance of the property would be deemed essential, the government said.
"When we have stay-at-home order, that’s pretty serious," Ford said. "Last week I stood here and I told you our province is in crisis. The facts are clear: cases and deaths are the highest since the start of the pandemic and community spread continues to escalate."
Ford said he knows everyone "wants to return to normal," but stressed the health-care system is "on the brink of collapse."
"I know the actions we've announced today are difficult but they're absolutely necessary."
Ford announced the restrictions shortly after the province released new projections that show COVID-19 is on track to overwhelm Ontario's health-care system.
In modelling data released late Tuesday morning, officials said they expect the daily COVID-19 mortality rate in the province to double from 50 deaths per day to about 100 deaths per day between mid-January and the end of February.
The predictions represent an increase from the previous data released in December, which suggested that under the "maximum likelihood estimate" Ontario would see a little under 50 deaths daily by next month.
Continued: My statement on the province's State of Emergency declaration and additional public health measures. (2/2) pic.twitter.com/yi7hFfJqNE— John Tory (@JohnTory) January 12, 2021
The province confirmed 2,903 cases of the novel coronavirus on Tuesday after eight consecutive days of case numbers over the 3,000 mark. Health officials logged 3,338 new infections on Monday, and a record-breaking number of 3,945 on Sunday.
While the province reported a drop in cases Tuesday, with just over 40,000 COVID-19 tests completed, the positivity rate of 7.8 is higher than what it was on the previous five days.
The province's seven-day average for number of infections recorded is now 3,523, up from 2,646 one week ago.
Quick facts about Ontario's stay-at-home order
When does the order take effect?
It comes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.
Does it mean no one can leave their home?
The province says it is allowing people to go out for essential purposes, such as shopping for groceries, going to the pharmacy, or exercise, as well as for work for those who can't work from home. Employers must allow staff to work from home if possible.
People who live alone and single parents can also consider having exclusive, close contact with one other household in an effort to offset the effects of isolation.
What about children?
Schools in five southern Ontario hot spots will stay closed to in-person learning until Feb. 10, though the province says that could be extended further. Emergency child care for elementary students will continue for eligible families in regions with no in-person classes.
As for children who aren't of school age, daycares and child care centres will remain open.
Will the order be enforced?
The government says one of the key changes included in Tuesday's announcement is that it allows provincial offences officers and other law enforcement to issue tickets to those who breach the order and disperse crowds larger than five people, if they're not part of the same household.
How will enforcement officers know who is out for legitimate reasons and who isn't?
The province hasn't specified how officers will check why people are outside their homes. But it said that people will have a duty to identify themselves when a police officer has "reasonable and probable grounds" that there has been a breach of the orders made under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.
How is this different from a curfew, which the province said it wouldn't impose?
Ford said that unlike a curfew, people will still be allowed to go outside regardless of the time for essential purposes, including if they need to walk their dog or "walk around the block" for exercise.
With files from The Canadian Press