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The Ontario government has announced a province-wide shutdown, which will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 26, Boxing Day.
“This difficult action is without a doubt necessary to save lives and prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed in the coming weeks,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said. “As premier, it falls on me to make the difficult but necessary decision and I will never, ever shy away from my duty to protect the people of Ontario.”
“Unfortunately, despite the restrictions, we’ve seen growing numbers of people travelling between regions within Ontario. COVID is spreading rapidly from high outbreak areas to areas with fewer cases. As it does, our hospitals are filling up more each day.”
The measures that will be part of this province-wide restrictions include:
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 (shopping malls may also establish outdoor designated pickup areas)
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
Ford called this a “temporary” and “one-time measure” that will last for at least 14 days in northern Ontario and 28 days in southern Ontario.
The premier also had a specific message for regions currently in the green and yellow, less restrictive levels, of the COVID-19 response framework.
“The risk of interprovincial travel and further spread is a real concern,” Ford said. “We’ve seen that people are moving from region to region and bringing COVID with them.
He also expressed concern about movement across the provincial border from Quebec into Ottawa, in particular.
“We also know Quebec is shutting down so areas like Ottawa, which have done a great job,...will be at tremendous risk over the holidays of people flooding in across the border,” Ford said. “We’ve seen it before when we open up and Quebec closes down,...they’ll come over in droves, numbers will be driven back up.”
When asked why these lockdown restrictions are being put in place on Boxing Day, rather than Monday or another day before Christmas, the premier said he wanted to give businesses the opportunity to prepare to “hunker down” for the shutdown, including managing their existing inventory, particularly for restaurants that are currently in operation.
Schools move to online, remote learning
All elementary and secondary schools will move to teacher-led remote learning on Jan. 4, 2021.
“Schools are not part of the problem of COVID in our communities but out of an abundance of caution, school closures over the winter break will be extended,” Ford said.
Schools located in the following Public Health Unit regions can resume in-person instruction on Jan. 11, 2021:
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
Elementary schools in other regions are planned to be able to return to in-person learning on Jan. 11, 2021, but secondary school students will continue learning remotely until Jan. 25, 2021.
Support for businesses
In advance of this shut down coming into effect, the provincial government also announced the Ontario Small Business Support Grant to provide between $10,000 and $20,000 to eligible small business owners.
Eligible small businesses include those that meet the following criteria:
Are required to close or significantly restrict services subject to the province-wide shutdown effective 12:01 a.m. on December 26, 2020
Have less than 100 employees at the enterprise level
Have experienced a minimum of 20 per cent revenue decline in April 2020 compared to April 2019