Premier Doug Ford announced the province-wide lockdown on Monday afternoon in an effort to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with COVID cases. The measure will take effect from 12:01 a.m. on December 26 and run for 28 days in the south of the province, including the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU). The lockdown will run in northern Ontario for 14 days.
Remote learning will take place when school students return from winter break on January 4. Elementary school students will return to in-person classes on January 11, while high school students will return on January 25.
The lockdown, similar to those imposed in Toronto, Peel, York, Hamilton and Windsor-Essex prior to Christmas, involves restricting indoor public gatherings and events, except for those with members of an immediate household. In-person shopping was banned in most retail settings, though curbside pickup and delivery are allowed to continue.
Discount and big box stores that sell groceries are limited to 25 per cent capacity for in-store shopping. Supermarkets, grocery stores and other stores that primarily sell food, as well as pharmacies, will have a 50 per cent capacity limit.
Both indoor and outdoor dining are banned under the lockdown. Bars, restaurants, and other food vendors are able to operate by delivery, takeout or drive-through services only.
Prior to the province-wide shutdown, the EOHU was within the orange “restrict” zone of Ontario’s colour-coded COVID framework. That framework, which determined restrictions based on a health unit’s rolling case average, outbreak numbers, positivity and reproductive rate, was suspended while the lockdown took place. The measures would be evaluated during the lockdown period to determine whether it was safe to ease any restrictions or if they needed to be extended.
EOHU Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis said the region’s numbers indicated the area would have moved into the more severe red “control” category if the lockdown had not been announced. He said the lockdown also offered an “even playing field” preventing Quebec residents from crossing the border to shop during their shutdown of nonessential businesses from December 26 to January 11.
“We were worried there would be an influx of people from Quebec coming into our stores, particularly in Hawkesbury, Alexandria and Cornwall,” he said. “This, I think, will level the playing field by having restrictions in our area and will help with the travel.”
Residents were asked to stay at home, with trips limited to necessities such as groceries, medication, medical appointments, or assisting vulnerable residents. Small business grants of between $10,000 and $20,000 were announced alongside the lockdown to help cover decreased revenue.
At a December 22 media briefing, Dr. Roumeliotis said the vaccine rollout offered hope at the end of the lockdown. “It’s a different situation to what it was in March,” he said.