UPDATE - 9:12 p.m. Jan. 13, 2021: This story has been updated with more details included in the legal order posted by Ontario’s government.
What are the most important points to know? According to Premier Doug Ford’s office, it’s simple: just stay home.
Ford’s office sent a list of frequently asked questions about the rules to reporters Wednesday.
The government can’t make one set of rules work for all Ontario regions, spokesperson Travis Kann said in the email. People in downtown Toronto, for example, can shop online or get everything they need from one big-box store, he said, while people in rural areas rely on curbside pickup at small retailers to get their essentials.
“... As we have from the very outset of this pandemic, we will continue to rely on the best judgment of Ontarians as they stay at home as much as possible and only leave their homes for essential purposes,” Kann said.
Some of the rules are straight-up contradictory. For example, Ontarians are being told not to go out unless it’s absolutely essential, but weddings and funerals are still allowed to host up to 10 people if they all wear masks and physically distance.
Here are the most important things to know. These changes go into effect at midnight on Thursday, Jan. 14 and will be in place until at least Feb. 11.
- Ontarians are being ordered to leave home only for essential reasons, like getting groceries and medication, going to medical appointments and getting exercise. Police and bylaw officers have the power to ask for identification and write a ticket if they have reason to believe someone is out for a non-essential trip;
- Schools in Windsor, Toronto, Peel, York and Hamilton will stay closed for in-person learning until Feb. 10;
- Students in Grades 1 to 3 will have to wear masks and all students will have to wear masks outdoors when physical distancing isn’t possible;
- Outdoor gatherings of more than five people are not allowed and can be dispersed by police. But the government says this allowance is only in place for people who live alone to visit with one other household;
- Masks are now recommended outdoors when physical distancing is difficult;
- Non-essential stores, like liquor stores and hardware stores, must close at 8 p.m. This doesn’t apply to grocery stores, big-box retailers and restaurants serving take-out;
- Non-essential construction is being restricted more.
What are you allowed to do?
- Go out to buy groceries, medication, personal care items and pet supplies;
- Send a child, who is too young to be in school, to child care;
- Attend medical appointments and access mental health services;
- Go to school, if the school is open;
- Go to work if you cannot work from home;
- Go outside for exercise, including to playgrounds, skating rinks, basketball courts, fields, cycling trails, etc. (but not places like ski hills);
- Pick up goods from stores that are allowed to offer curbside pickup;
- Visit with one other household if you live alone;
- Attend a wedding, funeral or religious service if there are 10 or fewer people present and they all wear masks and physically distance;
- Have a domestic worker into your home if they care for a child, senior or vulnerable person;
- Go to your secondary residence or cottage if you’ll be there for less than 24 hours or at least two weeks;
- Move or make arrangements to move or buy or sell a home;
- Go to the airport or train station to travel outside the province.
What are you NOT supposed to do?
- Visit with a social “circle” or “bubble” of people you don’t live with. This has not been recommended since early October;
- Go into work if it’s possible to do your job from home;
- Travel within the province;
- Stay in a short-term rental, like an AirBnB property, even if you already booked it (an exception is made if the rental is your only housing).
Why is this happening?
The previous lockdown didn’t work, according to Ontario’s top health officials. Hospitals are now on track to be overrun with COVID-19 patients in a matter of weeks.
“The data is showing we’re in a very dangerous situation right now,” Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health told reporters Tuesday.
She and her colleagues released modelling that showed Ontario will have between 10,000 and 20,000 new COVID-19 cases a day by mid-February if the current growth rate stays the same.
“... we’re in a very dangerous situation right now.”
The current caseload is hovering between about 2,900 and 4,200 per day — and hospitals are already filling up. One quarter of hospitals don’t have any intensive care unit (ICU) beds available, the doctors said, and another quarter only have one or two beds available.
“Without significant reductions in contacts, the health system will be overwhelmed and mortality will exceed the first wave totals before a vaccine has time to take effect,” the doctors’ briefing presentation said.
More than 5,100 Ontarians have already died.
Why are big-box stores open but not independent retailers?
This has been a huge point of contention between the Ontario government and business groups. The heat turned up Tuesday, when the province further restricted small retailers by limiting their opening hours to 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“How this will help stop the spread of COVID-19 is anyone’s guess,” Canadian Federation of Independent Business president Dan Kelly said in a statement.
Ford’s office defended the move, arguing that Ontarians can limit their trips outside by getting everything they need at one big store.
“In many regions of the province, Ontarians don’t have easy access to online shopping and rely on the convenience and relative affordability of big box retailers.”