Ontario has declared a 28-day state of emergency over COVID-19. This is what it means

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The province is once again in a state of emergency with Premier Doug Ford issuing a stay-at-home order that goes into effect at midnight 1 Thursday,

The move follows new data suggesting that hospitals may not be able to provide critical care to all patients if COVID-19 infections continue to spread at predicted levels.

Toronto, the Greater Toronto Area and the rest of the province have been stranded since Boxing Day, which includes curbside collection only for most businesses, reduced capacity for essential services like grocery stores and closure of schools, among other rules.

As before, all residents of the province are urged to stay home and not to go outside unless absolutely necessary – for essential errands, medical appointments or exercise.

Here are the changes the new rules will bring:

  • Construction: The “non-essential” construction must now cease. There is a long list of what is considered an essential build. It includes, according to the Prime Minister’s office, projects related to health care, long-term care, schools and public transit as well as manufacturing projects that were to be completed by July and residential constructions that had foot permits and had started construction before Tuesday.
  • Gatherings: Gatherings should remain limited to those from the same household. Outdoor gatherings will additionally be limited to five people from 10. It is now recommended to wear a mask even outdoors when physical distance is not possible.
  • Retail: Non-essential stores (this does not include grocery stores, pharmacies or restaurants) must open no earlier than 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. There were previously no restrictions on opening hours.
  • Schools: In-person classes will be suspended until February 10 in Toronto, Peel, York, Hamilton and Windsor-Essex. This includes before and after school programs. Elsewhere, in-person classes will be subject to new rules, including masking for students in Grades 1 to 3 and the requirement to wear masks outdoors, as well as increased screening protocols. Emergency child care will remain open in these areas.
  • Work places: All employers need to ensure that anyone who can work from home is working from home, after modeling showed travel patterns that have remained largely unchanged from the summer despite an increase in the number of cases.

With respect to the enforcement of the home support order, all law enforcement officers – including the Toronto Police, the Ontario Provincial Police, the Toronto City By-law, and the inspectors of the provincial labor – will have the power to disperse people, including on private property. They can issue tickets to those who violate the new rules. They will also be able to shut down a business or workplace if necessary.

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Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter who covers city hall and municipal politics for The Star. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags
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