TORONTO — The Eastern Ontario Health Unit region will remain in lockdown — albeit a lockdown with tweaks — and under a stay-at-home order until at least Feb. 16.
That’s the latest as the Ford government adopts a regional approach on reopening the economy— while and maintaining the shutdown in the majority of the public health regions in Ontario. The government says it will transition each region from the shutdown measures to a “revised and strengthened COVID-19 Response Framework,” under today’s announcement that maintains the lockdown in most of Ontario’s public health unit jurisdictions.
The EOHU region just missed out on the loosening of measures being enjoyed by its neighbours to the west. Health units in Hastings Prince Edward County; Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington; and Renfrew County are moving back to the “Green-Prevent” level on Wed., Feb. 10 at 12:01 a.m., including removal of the Stay-at-Home order.
NVN is investigating what the changes mean for the personal services industry — hair dressers, barbers and nail salons — as it is not clear. Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Eastern Ontario Medical Officer of Health, has been asked to address the subject during his broadcast at 4:15 p.m. this afternoon.
The EOHU region’s actual performance would otherwise place it in a less austere zone, under the framework’s colour-coded system. However, the government has also announced today that retail settings will face heightened health and safety measures even within colours below grey. And effective Feb. 16, grey-lockdown zones will see a tweak as well: limited in-person shopping will be permitted so long as capacity is limited to 25 per cent in most retail settings.
The new measures include what appears to be the first codified requirement to wear a mask outdoors in Ontario: Their use will be required outside when attending an organized public event or gathering (where permitted) if within two metres distance of another individual who is not part of one’s household (both indoor and outdoor).
“Our number one priority will always be protecting the health and safety of all individuals, families and workers across the province,” said Premier Ford. “But we must also consider the severe impact COVID-19 is having on our businesses. That’s why we have been listening to business owners, and we are strengthening and adjusting the Framework to allow more businesses to safely reopen and get people back to work.”
The government “proposes” that the stay-at-home rule in force within the EOHU and 27 other health units be lifted Feb. 16. For Toronto, Peel and York regions, it’s proposed that the stay-at-home order remain in effect until Feb. 22. Final decisions will be subject to review of the trends in public health indicators at that time.
“While we are seeing our numbers trend in the right direction, our situation remains precarious as the variants of concern remain a serious risk,” said Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health. “This is not a re-opening or a ‘return to normal’ and we must continue to limit close contact to our immediate households and stay at home except for essential reasons. By continuing to follow all public health and workplace safety measures, we can continue to reduce the number of new cases and the strain on our health system.”
“While we have seen some progress in our fight against COVID-19, the situation in our hospitals remains precarious and the new variants pose a considerable threat to all of us,” said Health Minister Christine Elliott. “As we cautiously and gradually transition out of the provincewide shutdown, we have developed an emergency brake system giving us the flexibility to contain community spread quickly in a specific region, providing an extra layer of protection.”
Out of fear of new COVID-19 variants, the province is also introducing a new trip-wire or “emergency brake” to allow for immediate action if a public health unit region experiences rapid acceleration in transmission or if its health care system risks becoming overwhelmed. If this occurs, the Chief Medical Officer, in consultation with the local medical officer of health, may advise immediately moving a region into grey-lockdown to interrupt the spread.
The provincial emergency declared under s 7.0.1 of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMPCA) will be allowed to terminate at the end of Feb. 9, the government says.
And while the provincewide Stay-at-Home order ceases to apply in some regions as of Feb. 10, “everyone is strongly advised to continue to stay at home, avoid social gatherings, minimize travel between areas with different rules, and limit close contacts to their household,” the government says. “Employers in all industries should continue to make every effort to allow employees to work from home,” it adds.
Enforcement of residential evictions will remain paused in the public health unit regions where the provincial Stay-at-Home order remains in effect. This will ensure people are not forced to leave their homes. In regions where the Stay-at-Home order is lifted, the regular process for residential eviction enforcement will resume.
This article was edited to reflect that changes to the Grey-Lockdown designation allowing 25 percent don’t come into effect until Feb. 16.