COVID UPDATES: State of Emergency declared, emergency orders extended

New rules? More restrictions? It’s no secret that Ontario’s lockdown rules and guidelines are confusing. Today we go over the latest news in the past week. 

Last week, on Tuesday January 12, Premier Doug Ford declared a second state of emergency for the province of Ontario. The announcement came with a stay-at-home order that requires everyone to remain at home with some exceptions: going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services, or going into essential work that cannot be done remotely.

The new restrictions went into effect last week on Thursday January 14. These measures are in effect for all of Ontario and will last until at least Feb. 11.

"The latest modelling data shows that Ontario is in a crisis and, with the current trends, our hospital ICUs will be overwhelmed in a few short weeks with unthinkable consequences," said Premier Ford in the press release for the state-of-emergency. "That's why we are taking urgent and decisive action, which includes declaring a provincial emergency and imposing a stay-at-home-order. We need people to only go out only for essential trips to pick up groceries or go to medical appointments. By doing the right thing and staying home, you can stay safe and save lives."

Many are complaining that the announced rules and regulations are as clear as mud. For example, the stay-at-home order tells Ontarians to not leave their home unless it’s essential - but non-essential businesses are still open. And while you are not supposed to gather outside your household, the province is allowing people to meet up if the gathering is outside and with five people or less. 

That outdoor gatherings are restricted to five people is consistent with the first-wave lockdown rules during the summer. So, like last summer, it seems it's a matter of citizens staying responsible and making the right choices. 

But not everyone listens - which may be why the order came out with new enforcement measures too. 

"Strong, new measures will be enforced to stop the spread of COVID-19," said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones in the press release. "We are taking extraordinary action to provide law enforcement officers with the tools and support they need to protect the health and wellbeing of Ontarians."

This part of the announcement has had many worried that they could expect to be stopped by police, or to see officers force their way into homes. There has been some clarification on the matter from police and government officials:

Police forces and bylaw enforcers are not going to be stopping people or setting up checkpoints. The enforcement will, instead, be largely driven by complaints.

Provincial offences officers will therefore have the authority to temporarily close a premise or disperse individuals who gathered in large groups if a complaint is received. Fines can also be issued for those who do not listen.

The confusion, while addressed after the announcement went out, did end up having an impact on essential workers. 

Provincial police had to ask residents to not call 911 with questions about Ontario's stay-at-home order. On Thursday, after the announcement went out, the Peel Regional Police tweeted that their communications team was being “overwhelmed” with calls about COVID-19-related matters, including the new stay-at-home order and restrictions that came into effect. 

To find out more information on the State of Emergency order, read the official press release or frequently asked questions released by the Ontario government. 

Emergency orders extended

A few days after the state-of-emergency announcement, on Saturday morning, the Ontario government declared that it is extending nearly all emergency orders under the Reopening Ontario Act (ROA) for an additional 30 days. The decision was made after consulting the Chief Medical Officer of Health. 

The orders under the ROA, which were set to expire on Jan. 20, have now been extended until Feb. 19. Extending these orders includes everything from the ability to implement rules on public gatherings and business closures to managing outbreaks in hospitals or long-term care homes.

An important note: this emergency order does not change the stay-at-home order issued last Thursday, requiring everyone to remain at home. The stay-at-home order is part of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMPCA), not the ROA.

The list of orders under the ROA and the EMCPA can be found online on the Government of Ontario's website.

Announcement later today too

The announcements are not over yet either. In Toronto, a new pilot immunization centre at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre will officially open today.

This afternoon, Premier Doug Ford will be holding a news conference in Vaughan. He will be joined by Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua for the announcement and Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health.

You can watch the announcement with English closed captioning on the Premier's official YouTube channel as well as the French interpretation and closed captioning on the Premier's official YouTube channel - French

Finally, some of the latest numbers 

On Sunday, Ontario had another 3,400 new cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus and 69 more deaths. 

The seven-day average of new infections dropped over the past week - on Sunday the number of active cases was down to 28,893 versus the 30,079 one week earlier.

Canada surpassed 700, 000 confirmed cases of COVID on Sunday. 

Have a look at the COVID-19 Canada tracker for more numbers.