Ontario to impose stay-at-home order, closing non-essential retail, sources say

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is scheduled to hold a news conference at 2 p.m. ET. You’ll be able to watch it live in this story.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s cabinet has approved a provincewide stay-at-home order and will close non-essential retail stores for all but curbside pickup, multiple sources told CBC News Tuesday night. 

The move comes in the wake of criticism that restrictions announced last week — what the government called “emergency brake” measures — are insufficient to slow the spread of Ontario’s third wave of COVID-19. 

Sources familiar with cabinet’s decision said the stay-at-home order would take effect at 12:01 a.m. ET Thursday and last up to four weeks. CBC News is not naming the sources because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the announcement.

The sources said only grocery stores and pharmacies would be permitted to stay open for customers to shop indoors. They said big box retail stores would be restricted to selling only grocery and pharmacy items for in-person shopping.

Garden centres would also be permitted to stay open, according to the sources.

Ontario is vaccinating, on average, more than 70,000 people per day against COVID-19, but the province has also reported on average more than 2,800 new cases of the virus daily over the past week. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

There is no indication that a provincewide closure of schools is part of the government’s plan. In the stay-at-home order that was in place in Ontario in February, schools were explicitly excluded.

Earlier Tuesday, Ford defended the measures he’d announced last week, yet hinted additional measures were coming.

“I think we made massive moves last week by basically shutting down the entire province,” Ford said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

“That was huge, shutting down thousands and thousands of businesses, that I hate doing, but we’re going to have further restrictions moving forward, very, very quickly.”

Pressure has grown in recent days on the Ford government to tighten measures. 

The medical officers of health from three of Ontario’s biggest public health units — Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa — urged the province on Monday to impose a stay-at-home order, travel restrictions between regions and an emergency mandate for paid sick days.

The top public health doctors in Toronto and Peel Region also ordered the closure of schools, sending nearly 600,000 students to online-only classes just days ahead of a rescheduled week-long spring break. Students in the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph health unit are similarly shifting to online learning for the time being.

WATCH | Toronto’s medical officer of health on her decision to close schools:

The high community spread of the coronavirus, particularly the variants, was the key factor in the decision to close Toronto schools, says Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health. ‘The risk was going up,’ she said. 5:00

Associations representing physicians and nurses issued statements saying more needed to be done to prevent further deaths and to ensure the health-care system is not overwhelmed.

Ontario has reported on average more than 2,800 new cases of COVID-19 daily over the past week. There are 510 people with COVID-19 being treated in ICUs, which is the highest at any point in the pandemic. The previous peak was 420 patients, in mid-January during the second wave.

In Toronto, the health-care system has become so strained that the Hospital for Sick Children announced yesterday it would establish a temporary, eight-bed intensive care unit for COVID-19 patients aged 40 and under. The idea is that the new unit would help ease the burden on other hospitals in the city.

Ford’s expected announcement comes one day after provincial health officials outlined Phase 2 of Ontario’s immunization campaign

While the plan includes an effort to get vaccines to about 90 “hot spot” neighbourhoods in 13 public health units, essential workers under 50 will likely need to wait until at least Mid-May before they can book an appointment for a first dose.

Ontario’s own COVID-19 science advisory table has repeatedly cautioned that the third wave — driven largely by more transmissible and more deadly variants of concern — is dangerously outpacing the current rate of vaccinations, especially, in Toronto and Peel and York regions.

And a new analysis from ICES — an Ontario research organization that tracks data on a broad range of health-care issues — used postal codes to show people in Toronto’s hardest-hit neighbourhoods aren’t accessing COVID-19 vaccines at the same rate as those in higher-income areas that have seen far fewer infections.

For example, in the tony St. Clair and Rosedale area about 22.4 per cent of eligible adults have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, the most in any part of the city.

Compare that to the Jane and Finch area, where only 5.5 per cent of eligible adults have gotten their first shot, despite having a rate of hospitalizations and deaths from the illness more than eight times higher than St. Clair and Rosedale.

The data paints a stark picture of who is getting their first dose of vaccine and who isn’t, which is something the province needs to get right to curb the spread of infections. 

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