Ontario Premier Doug Ford has declared a state of emergency in the fight to control the spread of COVID-19.
“We’re facing an unprecedented time in our history,” Ford said Tuesday. “COVID-19 constitutes a danger of major proportions.”
Attorney General Sylvia Jones invoked the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act to enforce orders such as a ban on all organized gatherings of over 50 people.
With these powers, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams has made province-wide orders — rather than just recommendations — to close bars and restaurants, and prohibit regular church services, parades and similar events until March 31.
“The following establishments are closed, effective immediately, until March 31 – all facilities providing indoor recreational programs, all public libraries, all private schools as defined in the Education Act, all licenced child care centres… all theatres including those offering live performances of music, dance and other art forms as well as cinemas that show movies and concert venues,” Ford said.
An exception has been made for restaurants to provide take out and delivery.
The orders do not impact private funerals and weddings, manufacturing plants, grocery and convenience stores, construction sites, workplace offices or public transit.
“This is not a provincial shut down,” Ford said.
“The vast majority of businesses, including those most vital to day-to-day life, will not be affected by this order,” he added. “Essential services and essential needs will be available to every individual and family.”
The significant move came as public health officials raised concerns that community spread of COVID-19 has begun in Ontario.
Without these measures, the province’s health-care system could be overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases, Ford said.
The premier did not say when life would return to normal for Ontarians.
Ford asked the federal government to work with the province to create a loan program to support business, and called for immediate Employment Insurance reforms to help workers.
The provincial government has put up $300 million for immediate measures to protect the health of Ontarians, including $100 million to increase hospital capacity and $50 million for testing and screening, he said.
“This funding will also help us protect our seniors and the most vulnerable during this difficult time,” Ford said.
Asked if the province is prepared for widespread panic or looting, Ford said he has confidence in the police to handle any situation.
“I just pray to God that wouldn’t happen,” he said. “We need to stick together; we need to support each other. We need to look out for each other.”