THUNDER BAY - In an effort to address a third wave that is being called different from anything experienced before during the pandemic, the provincial government has declared another state of emergency and issued a new stay-at-home order to limit mobility and reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
On Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford declared the province’s third state of emergency since the start of the pandemic and effective Thursday, April 8 at 12:01 a.m., Ontario will be under a stay-at-home order for at least four weeks.
“The reality is, despite everything we have done so far, the COVID-19 situation in Ontario is getting worse as these new variants continue to spread,” Ford said.
“Things are extremely serious right now and I am extremely concerned. The situation is evolving rapidly, hour by hour. As things change and we learn more about these deadly new variants, as we see problems arise, we need to adapt and move quickly and concisely.”
The stay-at-home order is similar to the one imposed following the Christmas season last year, though there are some significant changes.
As part of the order, big box stores will only be permitted to sell essential items, such as groceries, personal care items, cleaning supplies, and pet supplies.
All non-essential businesses will only be permitted to provide delivery or curbside pickup.
The purpose of the order is to limit the mobility of Ontarians in an effort to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
“Unless it is for an essential reason, please stay home,” Ford said. “The situation is extremely serious. We just need to hunker down right now. We need to limit mobility.”
The order comes as Ontario reported more than 3,000 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday. More concerning is the rapid increase in hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions among young people who are suffering more severe complications from variants of concern.
“Our hospitals are being hit hard. Intensive care units have more patients now than they ever did in previous waves,” said Minister of Health Christine Elliott. “With many hospitals at capacity, we are seeing patients transferred to other hospitals to receive the care they need.”
Dr. Janet DeMille, medical officer of health with the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, said the state of emergency and stay-at-home order is a reflection of significant rise in cases seen in parts of the province.
DeMille warned that the district could see a similar rise in cases, which would be an unpleasant experience given the high numbers reported in the past two months.
“When I see what is happening in other areas, similar to what we saw in February and March, we know cases can rise very quickly,” she said. “This stay at home order could prevent our cases going up again. That could have really big benefits for us.”
There are only five confirmed variant cases of COVID-19 reported in the Thunder Bay District, but that could quickly change, DeMille warns.
“We are up against something that is very tricky,” she said. “These variants of concern spread quicker, it spreads easier and that can drive a significant increase in case numbers.”
The new restrictions come as the province enters phase two of its COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
Ford said mobile vaccine teams will be going into high-risk areas in southern Ontario to offer vaccinations to those 18 and over in congregate living settings, residential buildings, places of worship, and workplaces to immunize those most at risk.
Teachers and education workers in high-risk areas in the Greater Toronto Area will also eligible for vaccines starting next week.
Ford added he hopes these measures will help limit the spread of COVID-19 and allow the province to vaccinate more people.
“I’m expecting we will be able to have 40 per cent of Ontario adults vaccinated by the end of the four week stay at home order,” Ford said.
“Make no mistake, these next four weeks are absolutely critical. We’ve come so far already that we just need to stick together a little longer because hope is on the horizon. I promise you better days are on the horizon.”