On April 7, 2021, the province of Ontario declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic for the third time, and announced that it would issue another province-wide stay-at-home order and implement various new and revised measures to help curb the transmission of COVID-19.
The emergency was declared under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, and will remain in effect for 14 days, until April 21, 2021, unless it is extended. Additionally, the government has amended regulations under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020 [ROA] in order to implement more stringent public health measures and restrictions than those introduced by the previous province-wide emergency brake shutdown.
Key aspects of these new developments are set out below.
The stay-at-home order came into effect on April 8, 2021 at 12:01 a.m. and requires Ontarians to remain at home, with exceptions for certain permitted purposes or activities, including but not limited to:
- obtaining certain goods and services (e.g., going to the grocery store or pharmacy, and accessing healthcare);
- providing assistance to an individual who requires it;
- exercising outdoors;
- travelling to another residence (subject to certain conditions);
- attending a wedding, funeral, or religious ceremony that is permitted by law;
- attending school or child care; and
- working where the work cannot be done remotely, including where the employer has determined that the nature of the individual’s work requires them to attend the workplace (a full list of the activities permitted under the stay-at-home order can be found here).
Although the applicable legislation provides that the stay-at-home order will remain in effect for 14 days, until April 21, 2021, unless it is extended, the government has stated that it intends for the stay-at-home order to remain in effect for at least 28 days, until May 5, 2021, unless it is extended.
Revised Public Health Measures and Restrictions
On April 8, 2021, new public health measures and restrictions came into effect across the province under the ROA. Notably, all employers are still required under the ROA to ensure that any employees who are able to work from home do so, subject to very limited exceptions. Moreover, there are new restrictions impacting retailers beyond those previously announced under the province-wide emergency brake shutdown.
Under the new public health measures and restrictions, most non-essential retailers may only open between 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., for curb-side pick-up and delivery, by appointment only, with delivery to customers allowed only between 6:00 a.m. and 9 p.m. Other new restrictions impacting specific types of retailers include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Discount and big-box stores: In-person shopping for discount and big box stores will be limited to grocery items, pet care supplies, household cleaning supplies, pharmaceutical items, health care items, and personal care items only;
- Shopping malls: Shopping malls may only open for access to grocery stores, pharmacies, health care services, government and court services, and picking up purchases from designated pickup areas;
- Other retailers that may open for in-store shopping by appointment
only: The following stores may operate for
in-person retail by appointment only, subject to a 25% capacity limit and hours
of operation limited to 7 a.m. and 8 p.m., with the delivery of goods to
patrons permitted only between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.:
- safety supply stores;
- businesses that primarily sell, rent or repair assistive devices, aids or supplies, mobility devices, aids or supplies or medical devices, aids or supplies;
- rental and leasing services, including automobile, commercial and light industrial machinery and equipment rental;
- optical stores that sell prescription eyewear to the public;
- businesses that sell motor vehicles, boats and other watercraft;
- vehicle and equipment repair and essential maintenance and vehicle and equipment rental services; and
- retail stores operated by a telecommunications provider or service, which may only permit members of the public to enter the premises to purchase a cell phone, or for repairs or technical support;
- Stores that sell liquor, beer, wine and spirits: Liquor stores may open for in-person shopping subject to a 25% capacity limit and hours of operation limited to between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m., with delivery allowed only between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.;
- Cannabis stores: Cannabis stores may open for curb-side pickup only, by appointment, between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m., with delivery allowed between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. only; and
- Garden centres, plant nurseries and greenhouses: Garden centres, plant nurseries and greenhouses may open for in-person shopping, subject to a 25% capacity limit and hours of operation between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. only.
A full list of the new and/or revised health and safety measures and restrictions that are now in effect can be found in the amended regulations, here.
Education and Child Care
Schools and child care centres will remain open for in-person care and learning in public health regions where it is permitted.
Certain public health regions, including Toronto and Peel, are currently subject to regional orders which require the closure of in-person learning in elementary and secondary schools. These orders were made under section 22 of the Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act and issued by each region’s Medical Officer of Health, who may extend the orders based on COVID-19 epidemiological data for the region.
Notably, child care centres in Toronto are not permitted to offer care to children who attend schools that are required to be closed, other than for emergency child care for those who qualify. Similarly, in Peel region, child care centres are only permitted to provide care to children under the age of six who are not attending school, and are not permitted to provide care to children who attend school in Peel region.
Workplace Inspections and Rapid Testing Campaign
The government also announced on April 7, 2021 that it will increase workplace inspections by provincial enforcement officers at essential businesses in sectors and regions that have been hardest hit by COVID-19. In addition, the government will implement additional outreach to employers in these hotspot sectors and regions to increase access to, and encourage the use of, rapid antigen testing for asymptomatic staff.
As always, we will continue tracking new COVID-19 related developments affecting employers and will post further updates as they become available to keep you In the Know.
This blog is provided as an information service and summary of workplace legal issues.
This information is not intended as legal advice.