The Ontario government has loosened restrictions on many businesses while maintaining a shutdown in most of the province until February 16 as it strives to contain COVID-19. While it maintained most existing restrictions Monday, the government is enabling many retailers to reopen while limiting capacity to 25 per cent in most retail businesses.
There will be a 50 per cent capacity limit for supermarkets, stores that primarily sell groceries, convenience stores and pharmacies.
The Stay-at-Home order will continue to apply to most of the province 28 until February 16, when most areas, including the region served by the Eastern Ontario Health Unit is expected to return to the provincial COVID-19 response framework “and no longer be subject to the shutdown and stay-at-home orders.”
The government added, “These dates may change depending on the trends in local public health indicators.”
As local trends of key public health indicators improve, regions will be gradually transitioned back into this framework, with some new and modified measures in place.
Details were provided by Premier Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, and Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health.
“Our number one priority will always be protecting the health and safety of all individuals, families and workers across the province,” said Premier Ford. “But we must also consider the severe impact COVID-19 is having on our businesses. That's why we have been listening to business owners, and we are strengthening and adjusting the Framework to allow more businesses to safely reopen and get people back to work.”
Face covering and gathering limits requirements also remain in effect, however, the declaration of “emergency” will expire.
“While we have seen some progress in our fight against COVID-19, the situation in our hospitals remains precarious and the new variants pose a considerable threat to all of us,” said Minister Elliott. “As we cautiously and gradually transition out of the provincewide shutdown, we have developed an emergency brake system giving us the flexibility to contain community spread quickly in a specific region, providing an extra layer of protection.”
Recognizing the risk posed by new variants to the province's pandemic response, Ontario is introducing an “emergency brake” to allow for immediate action if a public health unit region experiences rapid acceleration in COVID-19 transmission or if its health care system risks becoming overwhelmed.
If this occurs, the Chief Medical Officer of Health, in consultation with the local medical officer of health, may advise immediately moving a region into Grey-Lockdown to interrupt transmission. “While we are seeing our numbers trend in the right direction, our situation remains precarious as the variants of concern remain a serious risk,” said Dr. Williams. “This is not a re-opening or a 'return to normal' and we must continue to limit close contact to our immediate households and stay at home except for essential reasons. By continuing to follow all public health and workplace safety measures, we can continue to reduce the number of new cases and the strain on our health system.”
“While the declaration of emergency will be ending, the risks posed by COVID-19 and the new variants remain serious concerns,” said Solicitor General Jones. “That's why extending the stay-at-home orders for most of the province is necessary to protect our communities, our most vulnerable populations, and stop the spread of COVID-19. We continue to urge all Ontarians to follow public health guidelines and stay home, stay safe, and save lives.”
Municipalities and local medical officers of health may have additional restrictions or targeted requirements in their region. Provincewide shutdown measures went into effect December 26. The government declared its second provincial emergency on January 12, 2021 and issued a Stay-at-Home order to reduce mobility and address hospital capacity concerns.