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This Version Posted: January 14, 2021

Current Situation

On Jan. 12, 2021, the provincial government announced a second State of Emergency is in effect in Ontario due to rising cases of COVID-19. The Ontario government’s order means people must stay at home except for getting essentials.

These measures are in effect for the time-being. The Province will monitor key public health indicators around COVID-19 to determine whether or not to extend the emergency. Read on for further details.

On This Page:

Key Highlights

In response to rising COVID-19 cases locally and across Ontario, the Province is declaring a State of Emergency. Strict measures are in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and lessen the impact on hospitals, long-term care homes and other health care services. Failure to follow these restrictions could lead to tickets or fines.

Stay-at-Home Order

This order takes effect on Jan. 14, 2021. It requires everyone to stay at home, with the goal of reducing people’s mobility and contact with others outside their household in order to cut rising COVID-19 rates in Ontario. Do not gather with anyone outside your immediate household and only leave your home for:

  • Groceries, medicine and other essentials
  • Accessing health care services
  • Assisting others
  • Exercise (including walking the dog)
  • Essential work. NOTE: Businesses and organizations must ensure that any employee who can work from home does work from home.
  • School and child care.
  • Getting items and services needed for the health and safety of animals.
  • Gathering for a wedding, funeral, or religious service.
  • Other exemptions as outlined in the Stay-at-Home regulation (O.Reg.11/21).

NOTE: Anyone who lives alone will still be able to spend time (have close contact) with one other household to reduce the impacts of isolation.

Anyone not complying with the stay-at-home order could face fine or prosecution.

If you must leave your home to go out for essentials, ensure you follow all public health measures such as: staying 2 metres apart from others and wearing masks/face coverings (ensuring they cover your nose, mouth and chin; scarves and bandanas are insufficient).

For more on the Stay-at-Home order, read these FAQs.

Other Public Health Restrictions
  • Outdoor organized public gatherings and social gatherings are further restricted to a limit of five people with limited exceptions. The old limit had been a maximum of 10 people.
  • Individuals MUST wear a mask or face covering in the indoor areas of businesses or organizations that are open for shopping (with limited exceptions for age and medical reasons).
  • NEW: Wearing a mask or face covering is now recommended outdoors when you can’t physically distance more than two metres. 
Business Openings/Closures
  • Most non-essential retail stores can continue to be open for curbside pickup or delivery. However, these non-essential retail stores, including hardware stores, alcohol retailers, and those offering curbside pickup or delivery, can only be open from 7 am to 8 pm.
  • Restricted hours of operation do not apply to grocery stores (including other retailers that primarily sell food), pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores, and restaurants for takeout or delivery. These essential businesses can remain open for in-person shopping, but must continue to follow all public health control measures, including capacity limits (maximum of 50%) and ensuring customers wear masks/face coverings and practise physical distancing.
  • Discount retailers and big-box stores that sell groceries can open for in-person shopping, as well as curbside pickup and delivery. However, they MUST ensure customers stay at least two metres apart and limit themselves to a maximum 25% capacity.
  • Restaurants/bars can remain open for takeout, drive-through and delivery. No indoor dining is allowed.
  • Non-essential construction is further restricted, including below-grade construction, exempting survey.
  • All gyms, fitness clubs and recreational facilities remain closed.
  • Outdoor recreational amenities such as ice rinks, parks, playgrounds, tobogganing hills, trails (including for cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing) and basketball courts can stay open, provided users follow all public health guidelines (e.g. physical distancing, capacity limits).
  • Ski hills remain closed.
  • All concert venues, theatres and cinemas are closed, including for drive-in or drive-through events.
  • Public libraries can open for contactless curbside, delivery and pickup.
  • Museums and cultural amenities remain closed.
  • Businesses must have COVID-19 safety plans in place and make them available upon request. This sample COVID-19 Safety Plan for Community Partners, Businesses and Service Providers may be of use.
  • All businesses or places that are open must do frequent cleaning and disinfecting to ensure areas open to the public are kept in sanitary conditions.
  • Workplaces must do COVID-19 screening for any workers or essential visitors entering the work premises. The screening tool should ask if staff or visitors have any COVID-19 symptoms. This screening tool could be done electronically or using a paper-based resource like the sample provided here. The Ministry of Health also has an online COVID-19 Screening Tool for Employees and an online COVID-19 Screening Tool for Customers that may be of use.
Religious Services, Weddings and Funerals
  • No more than 10 people are allowed inside (or outside) for weddings, funerals and other religious services
  • For both indoor and outdoor ceremonies, those attending MUST ensure physical distancing, wear masks or face coverings that cover their nose, mouth and chin, and follow proper health and safety rules.
  • Virtual services are permitted, and encouraged especially due to Stay-at-Home order.
  • Drive-in services, rites or ceremonies are permitted, subject to certain conditions.
Schools and Child Care Centres
  • Teacher-led remote learning continues for students in southern Ontario. Schools in northern Ontario will remain open.
  • All schools in the COVID-19 hot spots of Toronto, Windsor-Essex, Hamilton, York Region and Peel Region will not return to in-person instruction until at least Feb. 10, 2021.
  • By Jan. 20, the Chief Public Health Officer of Health will advise when in-person learning for students in southern Ontario (including Haliburton County, Northumberland County and the City of Kawartha Lakes) can resume in schools.
  • New COVID-19 health and safety measures will take effect when in-person learning resumes in schools. These measures include:
    • Masks and face coverings must now be worn by Grades 1-3 students. Requirements are also in place for mask use outdoors.
    • Enhanced screening protocols
    • Expanded targeted testing
  • Child care centres for non-school aged children will remain open.
Increased Enforcement
  • Increased education and enforcement checks/inspections for workplaces will be carried out by Ministry of Labour inspectors to ensure compliance with all COVID-19 safety rules
  • The Province is giving increased enforcement powers to the Ontario Provincial Police, local police forces, municipal bylaw officers, and provincial workplace inspectors to issue tickets to individuals who do not obey the stay-at-home-order or do not wear a mask or face covering indoors. Businesses and companies could also be penalized for failing to follow the rules/orders.
  • Anyone who does not obey the new emergency orders could face a ticket, fine or prosecution under the Reopening Ontario Act or the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.
Frequently Asked Questions

Find answers to key questions about Ontario’s State of Emergency and Stay-at-Home order:

Why is the Province issuing a stay-at-home order while also permitting curbside pickup at stores?

This question assumes every person in Ontario has easy access to online shopping or that there is a big-box retailer in their community. This isn’t the case for many Ontarians who live in rural and remote areas.

Over the past year, we’ve learned a lot responding to this pandemic, including the fact that what may be essential to someone in a small community and how they buy that item may not be essential to someone in downtown Toronto, who can easily buy items online for delivery. The Government of Ontario determining what retailers may be considered essential risks cutting off many Ontarians who don’t live in Toronto or an urban centre from access to necessary goods.

What is an essential item?

The Government of Ontario cannot determine what is essential for every person in this province, each with their own unique circumstances and regional considerations. Legally defining what is essential risks cutting people off from goods that may legitimately be necessary for their health, well-being and safety.

What is an essential trip?

The Government of Ontario cannot determine what is essential for every person in this province, each with their own unique circumstances and regional considerations. That said, we have provided broad categories that people should consider before leaving home: food; health-care services, including medication; exercise; or work (where someone’s job cannot be done at home).

What is essential work?

The Stay-at-Home order does not define what work or jobs are essential. Rather, it now mandates that anyone who can work from home must now do so. For example, someone working in retail obviously can’t do their job from home and would be permitted to go to work.

If you do leave home for essential work, get a letter from your employer. This can be used as proof of employment in case you are asked.

Why hasn’t the Province defined who can or should work from home?

The Government of Ontario cannot review tens of millions of job descriptions to determine who can work from home. As such, it is relying on the best judgment and common sense of employers to determine who can do so.

At this time, if your workplace is permitted to be open and you are unable to work from home, you can leave home for work so long as your presence is required in the workplace. The Ontario government mandates that if you are able to work from home, you must.

If you believe you should be working from home, contact the Ministry of Labour to file a health and safety complaint.

Why can people still gather in groups of five outdoors?

The outdoor gathering limit of five is in recognition of the fact that some people live alone and may require the company or support of others for their mental and physical well-being. Anyone gathering outside is expected to adhere to physical distancing measures and are now strongly urged to wear a mask.

Can people leave home to exercise? Can I go to my local playground, ice rink, trail or basketball court?

Yes, exercise is considered an essential reason for leaving your home. What that means will be unique to each individual person: some may wish to go for a walk around the block, while others may wish to go to a local basketball court with their household to shoot some hopes.

Under current regulations, outdoor recreational amenities are allowed to open. This includes parks, playgrounds, basketball courts, skate parks, Frisbee golf locations, ice rinks, tobogganing hills, trails for snowmobiles/cross country skiing/snowshoeing dogsledding and others. Anyone using these outdoor amenities must maintain 2 metres physical distance from others. No team sports can be practised or played in these venues.

Please check further with your local municipality to understand what recreational amenities are open in their community. Watch for posted signs that may give further direction on use.

Can I go ice-fishing?

Yes, ice fishing is allowed. Rentals of ice huts is also permitted. Huts should be large enough to allow for physical distancing. Anyone renting huts should be screened for COVID-19 beforehand and provide contact information (in case contact tracing is needed). Ice huts can only be used by members of a single household, and cannot be used overnight.

Any rental equipment such as fishing rods should be cleaned and disinfected between uses. The maximum outdoor gathering limit is five people.

Can someone living alone still join up with another household?

Yes, they can exclusively join one other household. This is to support their mental health and well-being, as well as to ensure those requiring support continue to have access to essential caregivers.

Can I drop off my child to a grandparent for care?

Yes. Under the regulation, people can leave home to attend, obtain or provide child care. This can include dropping off a child at a grandparent or similar relative.

Can I leave home to care for an older family member, such as a parent or grandparent?

Yes. In this circumstance, you would be allowed to provide care or support.

Is there a time limit for how long people can leave their homes?

No. That said, we’re asking Ontarians to use their best judgment when leaving their home for essential reasons. They should limit the number of stores they go to and spend as little time outside their home as possible.

Is there a limit on the number of times someone can leave their home in a day?

No. That said, we’re asking Ontarians to use their best judgment when leaving their home for essential reasons. They should limit the number of stores they go to and spend as little time outside their home as possible.

Can people travel to their cottages or secondary residences?

Right now, we are asking people to stay home and only leave their home for essential purposes, which could include emergency maintenance at a secondary residence. In the spirit of the Stay-at-Home order, we are not recommending inter-provincial travel.

Can places of worship be open during the State of Emergency?

Yes. Religious services, weddings and funerals are still allowed — with restrictions. Click here for more details.

What should I do if I have been in contact with someone who is positive for COVID-19?

Public health reaches out to anyone who is considered a high-risk contact of someone who tests positive for COVID-19. Public health staff will give you direction on what to do next.

If you are reporting a potential exposure, stay at home to isolate and monitor for symptoms. The Health Unit recommends you go for testing at least 5-7 days after your last exposure, or sooner if COVID-19 symptoms develop. For further guidance, call the Health Unit at 1-866-888-4577m ext. 5020.

Additional Resources

If you have further questions, call the Health Unit at 1-866-888-4577 ext. 5020, or email: covid19@hkpr.on.ca