Ontario closing border with Quebec as part of tougher COVID restrictions
For the third time in a year, a lockdown was already in effect across Ontario, but on Friday, it became much more severe. The Ontario government announced strict, new enforcement measures of the existing stay-at-home order, travel restrictions and further strengthening of public health measures.
The urgent actions are a response to the rapid growth in COVID-19 case rates and extreme pressures on the province’s hospitals and medical personnel. According to COVID-19 projection models released earlier on Friday, the best-case scenario had a day-to-day increase of 10,000 new cases across Ontario by June.
As of Friday, there were 39,977 active cases of COVID-19 across Ontario. By Saturday, there were 3,611 more cases. On Saturday, there were 2,065 COVID-19 patients in hospitals across Ontario, 726 of them were in intensive care and 501 patients were on ventilators.
Most of the active COVID-19 cases across Ontario at present are highly contagious variants.
“As the latest modeling confirms, without taking immediate and decisive action, COVID-19 cases will spiral out of control and our hospitals will be overwhelmed,” said Premier Doug Ford at the legislature in Toronto Friday. “That’s why we are making difficult, but necessary decisions to reduce mobility and keep people in the safety of their own homes. We need to contain the spread of this deadly virus, while getting vaccines in as many arms as quickly as possible.”
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 have been made that will provide police officers and other provincial offences officers enhanced authority to support enforcement.
Originally, police and all other law enforcement agencies 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.
However, for residents of communities near the Ontario-Quebec boundary, traveling in and out of either province will become very difficult as of Monday. Police checkpoints will be set up for traffic entering Ontario. People will only be allowed to enter the province for work, health care services, transportation and delivery of goods and services or exercising Indigenous or treaty rights.
On Friday, hours after Ontario announced the boundary closure, the Quebec government responded and announced that it would also restrict most traffic into Quebec beginning April 19.
All of the bridges between Ottawa and Gatineau will be affected. Elsewhere in eastern Ontario, traffic on Highway 401/Autoroute 20, Highway 417/Autoroute 40 and the Long Sault Bridge between Hawkesbury and Grenville will be affected. There are also numerous town and county roads and auto ferries that cross the provincial boundary.
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 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 government also intends to implement the following public health and workplace safety measures effective Saturday at 12:01 a.m.:
- 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;
- Close all non-essential workplaces in the construction sector;
- Reduce capacity limits to 25% in all retail settings where in-store shopping is permitted. This includes supermarkets, grocery stores, convenience stores, indoor farmers’ markets and 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 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, Ford announced that playgrounds would remain open.
In addition, effective Monday at 12:01 a.m., the government is limiting 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. Exceptions are made for members of the same household or one other person from outside that household who lives alone. Drive-in services will be permitted.
All other public health and workplace safety measures for non-essential retail under the provincewide emergency brake (i.e., curbside pick-up and delivery only) will continue to apply.
To further support “hot spot” communities where COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted certain neighborhoods, as part of Phase Two of the government’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan, the government is committed to dedicating 25% of future vaccine allocations to the 13 public health regions with historic and ongoing high rates of death, hospitalization and COVID-19 transmission.