Stay-at-home order to take effect Thursday, adults in hot spots bumped up vaccine queue

Stay-at-home order to take effect Thursday, adults in hot spots bumped up vaccine queue

A new stay-at-home order will take effect Thursday across Ontario, as critics call on the government to do more to combat the surging third wave of COVID-19.

Premier Doug Ford made the announcement Wednesday afternoon.

“To boil it down as simple as possible: folks, please, unless it’s for an essential reason, please, stay home," he said. "Because the situation is extremely serious, and we just need to hunker down right now. We need to limit mobility."

Starting at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, Ontarians will not be allowed to leave their homes except for essential reasons, like grocery store visits, medical care or "exercise close to home and with the people you live with," per a news release.

Non-essential retail stores will be limited to curbside service, except for the following, which can stay open by appointment and with a 25 per cent capacity limit:

  • Safety supply stores;
  • Businesses that primarily sell, rent or repair assistive devices, aids or supplies,
    mobility devices, aids or supplies or medical devices, aids or supplies;
  • Rental and leasing services including automobile, commercial and light industrial
    machinery and equipment rental;
  • Optical stores that sell prescription eyewear to the public;
  • Businesses that sell motor vehicles, boats and other watercraft;
  • Vehicle and equipment repair and essential maintenance and vehicle and equipment
    rental services; and
  • Retail stores operated by a telecommunications provider or service, which may only
    permit members of the public to enter the premises to purchase a cellphone or for
    repairs or technical support

"And let me be clear: these measures will be enforced," Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said.

Ford said the province will keep schools open but start vaccinating all educators in high-risk neighbourhoods in Toronto and Peel, as well as any educator in the province who works with special needs students, beginning in the April break. And all adults in the designated hot spots in Toronto and Peel will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations, followed by hot spots in other regions.

Residential evictions will also be paused again, Ford said, “because no one should live in fear of losing their home.”

Ford also promised to ramp up workplace inspections, and start mobile vaccinations for people in high-risk congregate settings, residential buildings, faith-based locations, and large workplaces in hot-spot neighbourhoods.

The premier said he expects 40 per cent of Ontario adults to be vaccinated by the end of the four-week stay-at-home order, based on the number of vaccines he expects to receive from the federal government.

"And that’s when things start to change dramatically in our favour," he said.

The new order comes after weeks of infectious disease experts calling for stronger action from the provincial government. Last Thursday's four-week provincewide "emergency brake" was seen as ineffective as it did not come with a stay-at-home order, allowed non-essential retail stores to stay open and did not include paid time off for front-line workers most responsible for spreading the virus.

Ford, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams, attributed the decision to implement a stay-at-home order this week, when one was not announced with the provincewide shutdown a week ago, to the fact that ICU number rose faster than their expectations.

Some say the new measures are still not enough.

Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario CEO Doris Grinspun said Ontario needs to start vaccinating workers in warehouses and other front-line facilities this week.

"They're not going to take a day off to go and get the vaccine. And ... they're not taking a day off to stay home if they don't feel well," she said.

"So unless people are very quickly vaccinated we will continue to see the spread, which means we will continue to see people come into the ICUs in larger numbers."

Grinspun also called for paid sick days for all workers, and a shutdown on movement between Ontario and other provinces and countries, except for essential travel — which shouldn't include business deals that can be done over Zoom, she said.

CUPE Ontario said a stay-at-home order isn't enough without paid sick days.

"Every single expert makes it clear that the people contracting COVID-19 in this third wave are essential front-line workers and members of racialized communities," CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn said in a release. "A stay-at-home order not only fails to deliver what we need to stay healthy — it's actually just a political move to scapegoat everyday Ontarians."

Ford accused political enemies and health experts that have been calling for paid sick days of "playing politics," since there is a federal program available. That program has been criticized for its low pay and bureaucratic structure, which has resulted in low uptake.

"My message to the opposition and everyone else, because there's a lot of people that are playing politics right now, and it's totally irresponsible. They're doing a disservice to the people that they're telling this to," he said.

Ford became frustrated at a reporter who pushed him on this during the press conference.

"If I put the word 'Ontario' and not put 'Canada,' would you be happy? It's the same taxpayer," he said.

Opposition party leaders made it clear what they wanted: giving essential workers priority access to the vaccines immediately — not in a few weeks — and giving them paid time off to get it, or to stay home if they fall ill.

"The stay-at-home orders that the premier has announced today don't protect people, they don't do enough to stop the variance of concern from spreading," NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said at a press conference. "It's extremely disturbing that the premier hasn't realized that the very people that are filling up our intensive care units around the province, but particularly in the GTA, are those essential front-line workers. That's who's catching COVID-19 and that's who's ending up in our ICUs — our front-line heroes that the premier likes to talk about but doesn't want to protect."

Horwath called again for a provincial paid sick leave program and to accelerate the vaccinations of front-line workers.

Asked about the premier's comment that those calling for paid sick leave are "playing politics," she said it was a "ridiculous assertion."

"All the premier needs to do is look at who's in the ICU and all he needs to do is looking around at who is calling for these paid sick days," she said and rattled off a list that includes the NDP as well as the Ontario Medical Association, the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, local mayors including Patrick Brown and John Tory, boards of health, public health units and the editorial board of the Globe and Mail.

Horwath also criticized Ford for his assertion that the rapid increase of ICU admission was a surprise, given the warnings for weeks from medical experts and the province's own modelling. "And somehow the premier just noticed that yesterday, like some eureka moment?"

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca again called for the government's small business support grant funding to be tripled, instead of just doubled, as it was in the recent budget.

He also said Ford shouldn't blame Ontarians for going places they were allowed to go.

"Apparently Doug Ford was the only person in Ontario who was surprised to learn that when you leave shopping malls open, for example, that people in fact will go to those shopping malls," he said.

Del Duca accused the premier of making up stories to justify his decisions.

"I think he rationalizes his decision making, which is horribly poor and incompetent, by conjuring up anecdotes about imaginary, fictitious people that he's spoken to. That's not leadership," he said. "At the end of the day, you don't have to take my word for it. You simply have to look at Twitter and see what leading people who have real health-care experience, dealing with public health epidemiology, dealing on the front lines of ICUs, have been saying now, for months."

Green Leader Mike Schreiner also called for the immediate rollout of vaccines to workers in hot-spot regions.

"It’s been a long, difficult year for Ontarians," he said in a statement. "And Ford has an opportunity to finally get things right: implement a proper stay-at-home order and provide critical support to people and small businesses so they are actually able to stay home."

-With files from Jessica Smith Cross

Jack Hauen


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