On December 26 at 12:01 a.m., Ontario will impose what the government calls a provincewide shutdown. The shutdown will last for two weeks in Northern Ontario and 28 days in Southern Ontario (defined as anywhere south of the North Bay health unit). This means:
- Indoor gatherings will be disallowed, except with members of the same household. Ontarians who live alone will still have the option to maintain close contact with one other household.
- While curbside pickup and delivery will continue, indoor shopping won’t be allowed unless a business is deemed essential. Discount and big box retailers selling groceries will be limited to 25 per cent capacity for indoor shopping. Stores that primarily sell food will operate at 50 per cent capacity for indoor shopping. At shopping malls, buyers will only be allowed to go to designated pickup areas.
- Indoor and outdoor dining in restaurants will be prohibited.
- Outdoor gatherings will be limited to 10 people. These gatherings must be physically distanced.
- Weddings, funerals, and other religious services will be limited to 10 people indoors or outdoors, so long as physical distancing can be maintained.
- Although officials say schools are not a major source of viral transmission, the government is directing all elementary and high schools to provide exclusively remote learning on January 4, when students return from winter break.
- Schools in the District of Algoma, North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit, Northwestern, Porcupine, Sudbury and District, Thunder Bay District, and Timiskaming health units can resume in-person classes on January 11. In all other health units, elementary students can return to classrooms on January 11, but high school students will have to continue virtual classes until January 25.
- Post-secondary schools will remain open for virtual learning and select in-person learning for programs in the medical field.
- Childcare will remain open, with limitations on serving school-age children during virtual elementary learning.
- The province says employers should aim to allow employees to work from home.
- Indoor and outdoor sports and recreational fitness facilities will be closed, barring those solely used by high-performance athletes, but outdoor recreational spaces will remain open provided physical distancing is maintained by those using it. Ski hills are closed.
- Libraries can remain open for curbside, delivery, and pick-up.
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During the shutdown, the current tiered system of COVID-19 restrictions (green through grey) will be superseded by the above rules.
David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, advises that in the lead up to, and throughout the shutdown, Ontarians only leave the home for essential reasons, such as grocery shopping, medical appointments and supporting vulnerable members of their communities. “Preventative measures are as important as reactive measures,” he said Monday.
At the press conference in which the shutdown was announced, Dr. Naveed Mohammad, president and CEO of the William Osler Health System, said Ontarians should act as if the lockdown starts today to help tamp down rapidly increasing transmission.
The medical officers of health in Toronto, Peel, Halton, Hamilton, Niagara, Windsor-Essex County, and Waterloo signed a statement released Sunday recommending all social gatherings—even outdoors—be avoided.
Ontario is reporting that hospitalizations for COVID-19 have increased by 74 per cent in the last four weeks, and are 15 times higher than at the start of September, meaning the health system’s capacity to deal with emergencies and treat patients with the coronavirus is at risk.
Premier Doug Ford said the decision to enact these stricter measures was difficult, but that the province needs “a runway for the [COVID-19] vaccine to roll out,” and must prevent the healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed, lest medical professionals become unable to treat serious conditions.