After several days of sustained pressure, and an increasing number of new daily COVID-19 cases, the Government of Ontario finally bowed to the demands of doctors and public health workers around the province and issued a stay at home order. As of 12:01 am on Thursday, Ontario will be under its third state of emergency order since the start of the pandemic in a last ditch effort to get the virus, and its variants, under control.
“The COVID-19 situation is at a critical stage and we must act quickly and decisively to stay ahead of these deadly new variants,” said Premier Doug Ford in a statement. “By imposing these strict new measures we will keep people safe while allowing our vaccination program to reach more people, starting with our high risk population and identified hot spots. Although this is difficult, I urge everyone to follow these public health measures and together we will defeat this deadly virus.”
In a sometimes combative media availability after the announcement, Ford tried to assure the province he’s listening to doctors, and he has not let the virus run out of control though his inaction.
“I listened to [Chief Medical Officer of Health] Dr. [David] Williams from day one and I’ve never wavered from that,” Ford said. “The capacity at the ICUs, and these variants, have taken off even beyond what they told us, and the second I found out yesterday, I immediately asked him to start writing up the orders. This is moving rapidly, hour by hour, day by day, and a decision last week doesn’t represent a decision today.”
It was just last Thursday that the Province announced new restrictions that closed down some businesses like salons and gyms, but allowed non-essential retail to remain open at 25 per cent capacity. As of Thursday morning, that is over.
The new rules once again shut down all non-essential retail save for delivery and curbside pick-up. Big box stores and discount retailers will be allowed to remain open as usual, but for the first time they will be limited in the items that they’re able to sell. If you go to Wal-Mart now, you will only be able to buy groceries, cleaning supplies, healthcare and personal care items and pharmaceuticals. Safety supply stores, optical stores, vehicle and equipment repair shops, outdoor garden centres and nurseries, and stores that sell mobility and medical devices will also be allowed to stay open at 25 per cent capacity.
Schools will also stay open with the exception of areas where in-person learning has been cancelled by Section 22 orders. The new difference here is that after weeks of refusing to investigate the option, the government will allow special education teachers, and all education workers in priority neighbourhoods in COVID hot spots to be vaccinated next week during April Break. Toronto and Peel will be first followed by York, Ottawa, Hamilton, Halton and Durham.
Vaccines will also be prioritized for people “living in regions with the highest rates of transmission.” Mobile teams will be hitting the ground in Toronto and Peel to give out vaccines in congregate settings, large employers, residential buildings and faith-based locations in hot spot neightbourhoods. Anyone over the age of 18 will be eligible to get a shot.
The state of emergency will be in effect until May 7 at the earliest.
The Guelph Angle
Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph has not be classified as a hot spot even though the 7-day moving rate of confirmed cases has nearly tripled in the last week. Mayor Cam Guthrie expressed a city-wide sense of ennui and deja vu in his statement addressing the new state of emergency.
“It feels like someone keeps moving us to the beginning, and we have to start all over again,” Guthrie said. “I remember Guelph’s response at the beginning of the pandemic. We volunteered, made donations, we helped neighbours get groceries. We banged pots and pans, put signs in windows celebrating healthcare and frontline workers. If we have to start again, I want to see that spirit again too. Let’s follow the guidelines, get our vaccinations, and end these shutdowns for good.”
According to the region’s COVID case tracking website, the 7-day moving rate of confirmed cases is now 108 per 100,000, which is up from 41 on Thursday, and 91 on Tuesday. The test positivity rate is also now firmly red at 4.4 per cent with 21 new cases on Wednesday. The number of active case in the region is now 364, which is more than double the number of cases from this time last week. More than two-thirds of all active cases are in Guelph alone.
“I need every resident and business in our region to understand the risk that COVID-19 variants pose to all of us,” said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer. “These new variants are much more transmissible and carry with them a much greater risk of serious illness or death even for people in their 30s and 40s. Please continue to follow public health guidelines and get vaccinated as soon as it is your turn.”
Following public guidelines has become much more a matter of friction. When the new restrictions were announced last Thursday, Acqua Hair Solon announced its intention to keep its two Guelph locations open saying that there has been no confirmed COVID case or outbreak from either of their two salons.
Perhaps sensing further COVID closure scofflaws, the City of Guelph’s bylaw enforcement is making it clear that they will be following up with fines if any business is found breaking the rules.
“It’s disappointing to see a few local businesses willingly and deliberately breaking the laws designed to protect their employees and customers,” said Doug Godfrey, General Manager of the operations department. “Thankfully, most people and businesses are following guidelines so we can get this virus under control.”
Failure to comply with the Reopening Ontario Act is still a $750 fine, while repeated violations can result in a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison.
Guelph’s primary business advocate is asking for a balanced approach. Guelph Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Shakiba Shayani said in her own statement that everyone wants to see the virus overcome in Ontario, but the government needs to be proactive in order to help businesses make it through to the other side of the lockdown.
“In absence of further supports, new restrictions will simply devastate Ontario’s business community,” Shayani said. “An expedited vaccine roll-out prioritizing essential workers who cannot work from home is critical to preventing these stops and starts that are so damaging for business. With the Ontario Business Support Grant coming to a close, we call for continued supports that will see businesses through the third wave of the crisis.”