Today the provincial government announced that it is imposing a Provincewide Shutdown to fight the second wave of COVID-19 as cases surge. During the Shutdown, Ontario’s COVID-19 Response Framework will be paused. This news comes as Ontario reports new case numbers above 2,000 for the seventh day in a row, and with new modelling that shows striking numbers if further restrictions are not implemented and adhered to.
1. Provincewide Shutdown Measures
Effective Saturday, December 26, at 12:01 a.m., all regions in the province will be moved into a Provincewide Shutdown. While most of the province will stay at this level for four weeks until January 23, several northern regions* are only subject to a two-week lockdown ending January 9.
As a result, all businesses will be ordered to close except those designated as essential, a list of which is available here. Please note this essential services list has been further modified since the last update to Regulation 82/20.
Highlights of the changes to the list include the following additional measures that will take effect on December 26:
- Restricting indoor organized public events and social gatherings, except with members of the same household. Individuals who live alone may consider having exclusive close contact with one other household.
- Prohibiting in-person shopping in most retail settings – curbside pickup and delivery can continue.
- Discount and big box retailers selling groceries will be limited to 25 per cent capacity for in-store shopping.
- Supermarkets, grocery stores and similar stores that primarily sell food, as well as pharmacies, will continue to operate at 50 per cent capacity for in-store shopping.
- Restricting indoor access to shopping malls – patrons may only go to a designated indoor pickup area (by appointment only), essential retail stores that are permitted to be open (e.g. pharmacy, grocery store), or, subject to physical distancing and face covering requirements, to the food court for takeout purchases.
- Prohibiting indoor and outdoor dining. Restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments will be permitted to operate by take out, drive-through, and delivery only.
- Outdoor recreation activities will be allowed to remain open, including parks and recreation areas, playgrounds, ice rinks as well as trails servicing snowmobiles, cross country, and ice skating, all with physical distancing measures in place.
- Ski hills must close, as must most fitness facilities.
The Province is asking Ontarians to stay home and only leave for essential purposes only.
*The following regions in the northern Ontario are subject to the shortened two-week lockdown:
- The District of Algoma Health Unit
- North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit
- Northwestern Health Unit
- Porcupine Health Unit
- Sudbury and District Health Unit
- Thunder Bay District Health Unit
- Timiskaming Health Unit
2. Ontario Small Business Support Grant
The Ontario government also announced the new Ontario Small Business Support Grant, which will provide a minimum of $10,000 and up to $20,000 to eligible small business owners to help navigate this challenging period. Eligible small businesses include those that:
- Are required to close or significantly restrict services subject to the Provincewide Shutdown effective 12:01 a.m. on December 26, 2020;
- Have less than 100 employees at the enterprise level; and
- Have experienced a minimum of 20 per cent revenue decline in April 2020 compared to April 2019.
Further details, including how to apply for the grant, will be available in January 2021.
3. School Closures
As part of the new restrictions, elementary and secondary school students in publicly funded schools will participate in remote learning from January 4 to January 8.
- In-class learning at the secondary school level in southern Ontario will remain closed until January 25, with virtual learning continued.
- Secondary school students in northern Ontario and all elementary-level students will return to school in person on January 11.
Childcare centres will remain open for the duration of the lockdown. Before and after school programs will remain closed until January 11.
4. Securing the Borders
Premier Ford said today if the federal government does not act to further secure the borders and, at a minimum, implement testing at airports, testing will be implemented provincially. The Premier has been urging the federal government to impose these measures nationally.
5. New COVID-19 Modelling
New modelling data released today shows that if growth continues at the current rate, Ontario will see 3,000-5,000 daily new cases by the end of January. If test positivity increases from the current ~ 4.5% to 7% as other countries have experienced, we will be at 30,000 cases per day by the end of next month. In all scenarios, ICU occupancy will be above 300 beds within 10 days. In the worst-case scenario, we will see occupancy above 1,500 by mid-January.
With a firm lockdown similar to those seen in other hard-hit countries, cases will continue to grow for a period of time before improving. After 4 weeks of lockdown, experts expect case numbers of under 2,000 per day. After 6 weeks, under 1,000 cases per day is possible. Public health experts concluded the briefing by stating that, unless there is strong support for Ontarians to isolate and stay at home, we will not be able to get control of the pandemic.
6. High Priority Communities Strategy
The Ontario government also announced a High Priority Communities Strategy that includes $12.5 million in funding to support lead community agencies and community partners in 15 priority neighborhoods in Durham, Peel, Toronto, York and Ottawa. More information on the strategy can be found here.