Ontario introduces new restrictions on inter-provincial travel, lower capacity limits at essential businesses
Published Friday, April 16, 2021 5:12AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, April 16, 2021 6:10PM EDT
The Ford government will introduce new restrictions on inter-provincial travel and hand police sweeping new powers to stop and question anyone outside of their homes in an effort to curb the rampant spread of COVID-19.
Premier Doug Ford announced the new restrictions during a news conference at Queen’s Park on Friday afternoon. It comes in the wake of new modelling which warns that virtually every ICU bed in the province could be occupied by a COVID-19 patient by this time next month.
“I have never shied away from telling you the brutal, honest truth, never shied away from tough decisions and today I am here to do just that. My friends we are losing the battle between variants and vaccines,” Ford said in making the announcement. “We are on our heels but if we dig in and remain steadfast we can turn this around. We are down but by no means are we out.”
As of Monday checkpoints will be set up at Ontario’s provincial borders with Quebec and Manitoba and visitors will be prohibited from entering the province except for essential purposes, such as work, medical care or the transportation of goods.
The Ford government is also shutting down non-essential construction work sites and ordering the immediate closure of all recreational amenities, including playgrounds, golf courses, tennis courts, basketball courts and soccer and baseball fields as of this weekend.
Meanwhile, the stay-at-home order will be extended for another two weeks and will now remain in effect until at least May 20.
The last stay-at-home order introduced in January was largely enforced on a complaint-only basis but Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said on Friday that police will now temporarily have the authority to stop and question people about their reason for leaving home and ask them for their address. She said that all Ontarians will also be required to carry identification and produce to any law enforcement officer that makes the request.
“I cannot stress this enough, it is imperative that everyone limit their trips outside of the home to permitted purposes only, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, medical appointments, outdoor exercise, or for work that cannot be done remotely,” Jones said.
Ford’s cabinet met late into the night on Thursday
The Ford government has introduced escalating restrictions on three consecutive Fridays as it has worked to curb the spread of COVID-19 and protect the healthcare system amid concerns that surging hospitalizations will soon force doctors to make difficult decisions about who to treat.
Nonetheless case counts have continued to climb with a record 4,812 new infections being reported on Friday morning.
The modelling released earlier on Friday warned that even with additional restrictions the number of patients with COVID-19 in intensive care units will likely reach 1,500 by this time next month. In the worst case scenario it could near 2,000. Ontario only has about 2,300 ICU beds available on any given day and hospitals are facing a staffing crunch as they quickly try to ramp up capacity.
“I know that the majority of Ontario residents are doing the right thing. They're following the rules and keeping each other safe. But we need to step up enforcement and we need to focus on those who are deliberately putting others at risk by ignoring the stay-at-home order,” Ford said on Friday. “Those gathering in large groups are continuing to put themselves and others at risk so understand the restrictions will be strongly, strongly enforced because they must be. We know that when they are followed these measures work.”
Ford’s cabinet met late into the night on Thursday and again on Friday morning to consider the new restrictions and the news conference to announce them ended up being pushed back twice.
Speaking with reporters, Ford said the “difficult truth” is that there were only a few options left to his government in response to the surging case counts and every one of them “comes with a massive cost to people in their lives.”
But a number of epidemiologists and public health experts are criticizing Ford for not doing enough to protect the essential workers while focusing on reducing capacity at retail stores and closing down playgrounds.
The head of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital told CP24 Friday evening that the new measures announced are disappointing.
"I think what we learned today essentially seals the fate for Ontario. We're going to be triaging patients in Ontario's ICUs. My kids aren't going to be back to school this school year, and Premier Ford is going to have to have another press conference in the near future to say that what he planned today just isn't enough," Dr. Michael Warner said.
He pointed that the measures do not address the root cause of the surge in cases.
"The root cause is the fact that the people in my ICU right now, who are essential workers or related to them, do not have adequate protection from the virus. The modelling was very clear. The same people are getting nailed over and over again and it says very little to protect those individuals. And it's really unfortunate."
Warner warned that Ontario will see 1,800 patients in the ICU as he said the government is not doing what's necessary to respond to the situation.
"We're on our own here. And the bleeding is not going to stop with the band aid," Warner said.
Dr. Andrew Boozary, executive director of social medicine at the University Health Network, said measures that do not include paid sick leave and other supports will not protect essential workers and racialized communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
"We've never seen how important workers' rights are than through this pandemic, which has made it a matter of life and death instantly," Boozary said.
"And when you look at policies like this and you speak about the disconnect, it's really hard to see how this government, this set of policies care about communities of colour -- communities that have been on fire, and people living in poverty."
In a statement issued on Friday afternoon, NDP Leader Andrew Horwath said that the new restrictions effectively amount to “watered-down, weak changes.”
Horwath said that rather than playing the “blame game” by focusing on increased enforcement, Ford ought to “listen to the experts” and provide paid sick days to essential workers who often have to choose between going to work with symptoms and not paying rent.
“The vast majority of people are following the rules and public health advice. But busses are packed with essential workplaces. People feeling under the weather have to go in to work because they don’t have paid sick days. Employers are continuing non-essential functions because Ford allows them to,” Horwath said.
Here is a full list of all the new restrictions:
- Outdoor gatherings will be strictly limited to members of your household only
- Capacity in big box stores will be reduced to 25 per cent
- Capacity at religious services, weddings and funerals limited to 10 people indoors
- Non-essential construction projects will be prohibited