While cases of COVID-19 variants increased across Ontario during the past week, the provincial government decided more drastic action was needed to deal with the situation and the extreme pressure it is placing on hospitals and medical personnel.
On Friday, April 16, Premier Doug Ford announced strict, new enforcement measures of the existing Stay-at-Home Order, travel restrictions, and further strengthening of public health measures. According to COVID-19 projection models released Friday, the best-case scenario had a day-to-day increase of 10,000 new cases across Ontario by June.
Increased enforcement and border closure
To increase public compliance with the Stay-at-Home order and stop the spread of COVID-19, amendments to the enforcement of COVID-19 measures emergency order were made that give police officers and other provincial offences officers enhanced authority to support the enforcement of Ontario’s Stay-at-Home order.
Originally, police and all other law enforcement agencies across Ontario were given the authority to randomly stop motorists and pedestrians to question why they were not at home and what their address is. Criticism mounted quickly from citizens concerned about civil rights. Several police forces across Ontario announced that they would not conduct random checks on citizens. On Saturday afternoon, the government relented and decided to not allow random checks.
Ford announced on Friday that Ontario would close its land border with Québec and Manitoba effective April 19. Locally, Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) checkpoints went up on Monday on the Ontario-bound lanes of the Long Sault Bridge in Hawkesbury and on the westbound lanes of Highway 417 near Pointe-Fortune. Just hours after Ontario announced it would close its boundary, Québec Minister of Public Security and Vice-Premier Geneviève Guilbault announced that Québec would also close its boundary with Ontario but would use only periodic checkpoints. A checkpoint was briefly operating on the Québec-bound lanes of the Long Sault Bridge on Monday morning.
What’s allowed, and what isn’t allowed
The OPP issued a series of instructions for drivers entering Ontario by road. Traffic that is absolutely essential is permitted to enter the province.
All vehicles are required to slow down as they approach the checkpoints. Commercial vehicles, such as transport trucks, are permitted to pass. Ontario-plated passenger vehicles are required to enter the checkpoint but are allowed to proceed. Officers will be screening incoming passenger vehicles with out-of-province plates to determine the reason for entering Ontario. Permitted reasons include, but are not limited to:
- Live/work in Ontario
- Health care matters
- Indigenous Treaty Rights
- Child care or custody matters
- Transportation of goods
- Those travelling through Ontario to another location
For specifics of the vehicle border screening legislation (O. Reg. 293/21), visit https://www.ontario.ca/laws/regulation/r21293.
As required by the provincial Emergency Measures and Civil Protection Act, those not travelling for essential reasons will be refused entry.
At the OPP checkpoint on Chenail Island on Monday morning, vehicles were being directed into the driveway of Le Chenail Cultural Centre, where drivers were being briefly questioned by police officers before being permitted to continue.
The Québec government has also issued a list of essential reasons for traffic to be allowed to enter the province.
Anyone coming from Ontario will therefore be prohibited from entering or being in Québec, unless they demonstrate that they:
- Have their main residence or a secondary residence in Québec and need to visit it for maintenance
- Travel to Québec for humanitarian purposes
- Travel into Québec to obtain care or services required by their state of health or to provide such care or services to a person who requires them
- To work in Québec, to practice their profession or to attend an educational institution
- Travel in Québec to comply with a judgment rendered by a court, to respond to a subpoena to appear in court or to allow the exercise of parental custody or access rights
- That they are an employee of the federal public service whose place of work is in Québec and that their presence is required by the employer at that place of work
- Ensure the transport of goods in Québec or in transit in Québec
- Cross Québec territory to reach a principal residence located outside Québec
- Enter or cross Québec as part of an international trip or to another province, by bus, train, ferry or plane.
People entering Québec from Ontario to return to their main residence must self-isolate for 14 days upon their return, with the exception of people who have been in Ontario for:
- Humanitarian reasons
- Obtain or provide health care services
- People who work, practice a profession, or attend an educational institution in Ontario
- Comply with a judgment rendered by a court, to respond to a subpoena to appear in court or to allow the exercise of parental custody or access rights in Ontario
Self-isolation for 14 days is also required for people from Ontario who:
- Transport goods in Québec or in transit in Quebec
- Cross Québec in order to get to their main residence located outside Québec
- Enter or pass through Québec as part of an international trip or to another province, by bus, train, ferry or plane
- People from Ontario may not make unnecessary stops or be in a restaurant for consumption on site in Québec.
Extension of emergency orders
Both the provincial declaration of emergency and the Stay-at-Home order have been extended for an additional two weeks to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The Stay-at-Home order currently in effect requires everyone to remain at home except for specified purposes, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services (including getting vaccinated), for outdoor exercise, or for work that cannot be done remotely.
The following public health and workplace safety measures went into effect on Saturday, April 17, 2021:
- Prohibit all outdoor social gatherings and organized public events, except for with members of the same household or one other person from outside that household who lives alone or a caregiver for any member of the household, including pairs of people from different households walking together
- Close all non-essential workplaces in the construction sector
- Reduce capacity limits to 25 per cent in all retail settings where in-store shopping is permitted. This includes supermarkets, grocery stores, convenience stores, indoor farmers’ markets, other stores that primarily sell food and pharmacies and
- Close all outdoor recreational amenities, such as golf courses, basketball courts, soccer fields, with limited exceptions.
Originally, all playgrounds in Ontario were to be closed. That decision led to considerable opposition from citizens, especially parents who live in urban areas in homes without backyards for children to play in. On Saturday afternoon, Premier Ford announced that playgrounds would remain open.
In addition, effective Monday, April 19, the government limited the capacity of weddings, funerals, and religious services, rites, or ceremonies to 10 people indoors or outdoors. Social gatherings associated with these services such as receptions are prohibited, except for with members of the same household or one other person from outside that household who lives alone. Drive-in services will be permitted.