On January 12, 2021, the Ontario government declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic for a second time, and announced that it will issue a stay-at-home order and implement other new measures to help curb the transmission of COVID-19.
The emergency was declared under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act [EMPCA] and will expire after 14 days, unless extended. The province first declared a state of emergency in relation to COVID-19 on March 17, 2020, and repeatedly extended it until it expired on July 24, 2020. Given the current severity of the pandemic in Ontario, it appears likely that the emergency will be extended beyond the initial 14 day period.
The declaration of emergency will, in conjunction with the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020 [ROA], allow the province to implement a suite of new and enhanced public health measures and restrictions beyond those already imposed by the current province-wide shutdown. The new measures that have been announced, which may be subject to change, are briefly summarized below. Details about these new measures have yet to be released. We will post additional information over the coming hours and days as it becomes available.
The stay-at-home order will require Ontarians to remain at home, with exceptions for certain permitted purposes or activities, such as grocery shopping, going to the pharmacy, accessing health care, exercising, or working where the work cannot be done remotely. Further, all businesses will be required to ensure that any employees who are able to work from home do so. The order will come into effect on January 14, 2021 at 12:01 a.m.
Additional Public Health Measures
The following measures will come into effect on January 13, 2021 at 12:01 a.m.:
- Gatherings: Outdoor organized public gatherings and social gatherings must not exceed five people, with limited exceptions.
- Face Coverings: Individuals must wear a mask or face covering in the indoor areas of businesses and organizations that are open. Wearing a face covering is now recommended outdoors where appropriate physical distancing is not possible.
- Retail: All non-essential retail stores (excluding grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores, and restaurants for takeout or delivery) must open no earlier than 7 a.m. and close by 8 p.m.
- Construction: “Non-essential” construction is further restricted.
New Enforcement Measures
All provincial offences officers, including local and provincial police, by-law officers and provincial workplace inspectors, will be granted the authority to issue tickets to individuals who do not comply with the stay-at-home-order and other requirements under the ROA and/or EMCPA. Non-compliance with public health requirements may result in fines and/or prosecution.
All provincial enforcement officers will also be authorized to temporarily close a business or organization, and disperse individuals who are in contravention of an order or gathering limits.
Schools and Childcare Centres
Schools in the Windsor-Essex, Peel Region, Toronto, York, and Hamilton public health units will remain closed for in-person instruction, including before-and after-school programs, until February 10, 2021. Schools in Northern Ontario public health units will continue to remain open.
In-person instruction will be subject to new health and safety measures, including mask requirements for students in grades 1 to 3 and for when students are outdoors, enhanced screening protocols, and expanded targeted testing.
Child care centres will be permitted to remain open to care for non-school aged children, but will be subject to enhanced screening requirements and infection prevention and control measures. Child care centres will also be able to voluntarily participate in targeted COVID-19 testing. In areas where in-person instruction for elementary school students is suspended, emergency childcare will continue for eligible families until in-person instruction resumes.
Workplace Education and Enforcement Campaign
The Ministry of Labour has launched the “Stay Safe All Day” campaign to ensure that employers are aware of and following health and safety requirements related to COVID-19. Workplace inspections will be conducted in areas of high transmission, workplaces with reported outbreaks, and workplaces in certain industries. During inspections, employers will be provided with new educational materials to promote safe behaviour at work.
Details regarding many of these measures are still forthcoming. We will continue monitoring the progression of these measures and post further updates as they become available.
This blog is provided as an information service and summary of workplace legal issues.
This information is not intended as legal advice.