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Emergency Alert tells Ontarians to stay home but not much has changed

Just after 10 a.m. on Thursday, to the surprise of many, the Provincial Government issued an emergency alert through cellular, radio and television networks. The alert was intended to remind Ontario residents that a stay-at-home order was now in effect. Ontario residents must remain at home at all times except when accessing essential work, health care, groceries or exercise.

Premier Ford declared a second state of emergency in eight months on Tuesday, presenting new measures to enhance the province-wide lockdown already in effect. Besides the shelter-at-home rule, elementary and secondary schools in southern Ontario must remain closed until at least January 25 - two weeks later than originally slated.

Further restrictions limit outdoor gatherings to five people with few exceptions. Non-essential businesses, including those with curbside pickup, are confined to operating between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m., with the exception of grocery stores, drug stores, gas stations, variety stores, and those restaurants offering take-away and delivery. As well, non-essential construction has been curtailed.

However, clarity is not a strong suite in this pronouncement. Non-essential travel is forbidden, but exactly what that entails in not clear. Mobility is permitted in order to walk dogs, self-exercise, attend a job or purchase food, but no limits are placed on how far one can travel to do so. Nonetheless, police, bylaw and workplace inspectors have been charged with the responsibility of ticketing those individuals who transgress this decree.

The Provincial Government also wants masks worn outdoors where distancing is problematic. As stated on a government website : “Wearing a mask or face covering is now recommended outdoors when you can't physically distance more than two meters.”

But limiting outdoor gatherings to five people will no doubt impact attendance at outdoor skating rinks provided by many municipalities. Does this mean only five people can be on the ice at the same time? Will skaters have to wear masks?

As far as the construction industry is concerned, the new restrictions are vague if not puzzling. Non-essential construction work, including below-grade construction will be curbed, but what exactly determines “non-essential” is not at all clear.

Premier Ford is on record as being against a curfew, but the stay-at-home fiat is really not much different from the lockdown we already have Halton Hills. Non-essential businesses will have to close at 8 pm but that was already the case. Curiously, big box stores selling groceries, although limited to 25 percent capacity, will be allowed to operate unimpeded and set their own hours.

Unlike Quebec residents, we'll be able to go out at 3 a.m. in search of peanuts and some exercise, but the Ontario version of the new emergency measures is unnecessarily vague and almost impossible to enforce. Otherwise, not much has changed.


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