Ontario’s COVID-19 Response: A History of Announced Measures, 2020-2022

Stikeman Elliott LLP

Stikeman Elliott LLP

The following is a complete accumulation of our blog postings on Ontario COVID-19 restrictions since 2020, in reverse chronological order. This does not include the most current post, which can be accessed here. This “history” will be supplemented as more recent posts are superseded.

Please note that the information below is generally no longer current and is presented for reference purposes only.

Back to Step Two as Province Seeks to Blunt Omicron’s Impact on Health Care

On January 3, 2022, the Government of Ontario announced that, as a temporary measure, the province would revert to a modified version of Step Two of the Roadmap to Reopen as of 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, January 5, 2022. This measure, currently intended to remain in place until January 26, 2022, is intended to help the province handle the surge in cases caused by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Full details of what Step Two entails, including rules relating to schools and social gatherings, are available in the latest version of O.Reg. 263/20. In summary form, the key provisions relating specifically to commercial activities are as follows:

  • Businesses and organizations must now ensure that their employees work remotely unless the nature of their work requires them to be on site;
  • Indoor dining at restaurants, bars and other dining or drinking establishments must close;
  • Outdoor dining (with restrictions), takeout, drive-thru and delivery are permitted;
  • Retail settings, including shopping malls, may operate at 50% capacity.
  • At shopping malls, physical distancing will be required in queues, food courts must close and loitering will not be allowed;
  • Personal care services may operate at 50% capacity (with certain restrictions);
  • Saunas, steam rooms and oxygen bars are closed;
  • Sales of alcohol are restricted after 10 p.m. An 11 p.m. cutoff applies to the on-site consumption of alcohol in businesses and settings where such consumption is permitted. (Delivery and takeout, grocery/convenience stores and other retail liquor operations are exempt);
  • Indoor meeting and event spaces must close, with limited exceptions; outdoor spaces may remain open with certain restrictions;
  • Indoor concert venues, theatres, cinemas are closed; rehearsals and recorded performances are permitted with restrictions;
  • Museums, galleries, zoos, science centres, landmarks, historic sites, botanical gardens and similar attractions, amusement parks and waterparks, tour and guide services and fairs, rural exhibitions, and festivals are all closed. (Outdoor establishments are permitted to open with restrictions and with spectator occupancy, where applicable, limited to 50% capacity);
  • Indoor horse-racing tracks, car-racing tracks and other similar venues are closed. (Outdoor establishments may operate with restrictions and with spectator occupancy limited to 50% capacity);
  • Boat tours may operate at 50% capacity;
  • Gyms and other indoor sport and recreational fitness facilities are closed, with exceptions for elite and professional athletes. Outdoor facilities are permitted to operate but with spectator occupancy limited to 50% capacity and other restrictions); and
  • Capacity at indoor weddings, funerals, and religious services, rites and ceremonies is limited to 50% capacity of the relevant room. (Outdoor services are limited to the number of people that can maintain 2 metres of physical distance. Social gatherings associated with these services must adhere to the social gathering limits of 5 people indoors or 10 people outdoors).

The province also stated that it is exploring options for providing new targeted supports for workers and businesses.

December 17: Extending the Indoor Capacity Limit

On December 17, 2021, the Government of Ontario made a major announcement about the extension of the 50% capacity limit (discussed below with regard to large event venues) to the following indoor settings, as of 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, December 19, 2021:

  • Restaurants and bars, other food and drink establishments and strip clubs
  • Personal care services
  • Personal physical fitness trainers
  • Retailers (including groceries and pharmacies)
  • Shopping malls
  • Non-spectator areas of facilities used for sports and fitness activities (gymnasiums)
  • Indoor recreational amenities (and clubhouses at outdoor amenities)
  • Tour and guide services
  • Photography services and studios
  • Marinas and boat clubs

Additional requirements include a 10-person limit at tables in bars and restaurants and a requirement that bars, restaurants, meeting and event spaces and strip clubs close by 11 p.m. (other than take-out and delivery food services). There will also be a prohibition on food and drink services at sporting events, theatres, cinemas, racetracks and many other venues. Alcohol sales will be restricted after 10 p.m. and consumption in businesses will be restricted after 11 p.m. Please see the announcement for the most complete and latest information.

Additionally, social gathering restrictions will be reinstated, with a maximum of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.

December 16: Large venue capacity limits in effect as of December 18, 2021

On December 16, 2021, the Government of Ontario announced that, as of Saturday, December 18, 2021, many businesses and facilities with an indoor area that has a maximum occupant load (or seating capacity) of 1,000 or more persons will be required to limit occupancy to 50% of capacity. This includes (among others) meeting and event spaces, convention centres, indoor sports and fitness facilities (including Rogers Centre in Toronto regardless of whether its roof is open), concert venues, theatres, cinemas, TV studios with live audiences, museums, galleries, casinos, bingo halls, racetracks, amusement parks, fairs, rural exhibitions and festivals.

One distinction that is important to note is that the capacity limit applies with respect to the entire business or facility, not to the maximum occupancy of each room or area within the facility. The amending regulation is O.Reg. 863/21.

The December 16 and 17, 2021 announcements respond to concerns about the transmissibility of the “omicron” variant, this announcement represents a reversal of some of the momentum created on October 25, 2021, when the Government of Ontario began the process of easing its pandemic restrictions in accordance with a plan announced on October 22, 2021. As outlined in our discussion below, that plan, which is still in effect, creates a flexible timetable for achieving this goal by March 28, 2022. The timetable was adjusted on November 10, 2021 and again on December 7, 2021, as noted, with respect to restrictions applying to nightclubs, bathhouses and certain other locations.

Please note that this post includes a complete reverse-chronological listing of our past reports on developments in Ontario’s response to the pandemic, dating back to April 30, 2020. The older information provides useful historical context for the most recent developments but is generally no longer valid. This post should be read in conjunction with posts on specific employment-related issues that are regularly published by Stikeman Elliott’s Employment & Labour Group and which are included in the firm’s COVID-19 Update, as well as with our posts on related developments in Ontario and across Canada.

October 25: Gradual Easing of Pandemic Restrictions Begins (updated through December 7)

On October 22, 2021, the Government of Ontario unveiled its plan to bring the province’s pandemic restrictions to a gradual and safe conclusion. The media release summarizes the amendments to O.Reg. 364/20 that came into effect as of October 25, 2021. A useful chart is provided that indicates the key stages in the reopening and their tentative timing.

Changes that take effect on October 25 include removing the capacity limits in the following settings in which proof of vaccination is required:

  • Restaurants and bars
  • Indoor areas of gyms and other sport and fitness training facilities
  • Waterparks
  • Casinos
  • Bingo halls and other gaming establishments
  • Indoor meeting and event spaces.

Certain other settings can also lift their capacity limits if they choose to require proof of vaccination (although it is not mandatory for them to do so):

  • Museums and galleries
  • Religious services and ceremonies
  • Tour and guide services
  • Marinas and boat tours
  • Fairs, amusement parks, festivals etc.
  • Photography businesses
  • Real estate open houses
  • Barbershops, salons, tattoo parlours and other personal care services.

Note that most of the above refer to the indoor portion of a facility (e.g. of an amusement park). Outdoor areas were generally already subject to less stringent pandemic requirements.

Next scheduled steps in the reopening

The next major step, originally scheduled for November 15, 2021 but put on hold as of November 10, is to remove capacity restrictions for nightclubs, wedding receptions and other venues where dancing occurs, as well as at bathhouses and strip clubs. These environments, which are and will continue to be open to vaccinated persons only, are at an elevated risk for coronavirus transmission. The November 10 announcement stated that the situation would be monitored over the subsequent 28 days to determine when it is safe to proceed with the removal of capacity restrictions. On December 7, 2021, this “pause” was renewed as the Government of Ontario continued to assess the significance of the “omicron” variant.

Finally, in January and February, 2022, the vaccination requirements will be eliminated for the venues above (in the same order, with nightclubs etc. following the others by several weeks). The last step, planned for March 28, 2022, will be to remove the vaccination requirements for:

  • Meeting and event spaces
  • Sporting events
  • Theatres, cinemas and concert halls
  • Racetracks
  • Commercial and film productions with studio audiences.

Over the first three months of 2022, as deemed advisable by health authorities, capacity and distancing requirements applying to settings where proof of vaccination is not required – such as grocery stores – will also be eliminated.

All of the above, and in particular the specific dates that are given, is subject to revision in light of developments in the fight against COVID-19 – as has occurred (as noted above) in November and December in light of the emergence of the “omicron” variant. Even after March 28, 2022, regional reimplementation of pandemic measures will continue to be possible as part of the Government’s pandemic response.

September 1: Ontario Announces Proof of Vaccination Requirement for Entry into Certain Establishments

On September 1, 2021, the Government of Ontario announced that, as of Wednesday, September 22, 2021, Ontarians will need to provide proof that they are fully vaccinated, along with photo ID, in order to enter certain public settings and facilities. Named specifically in the news release are:

  • Restaurants and bars (excluding outdoor patios, as well as delivery and takeout);
  • Nightclubs (including outdoor areas of the establishment);
  • Meeting and event spaces, such as banquet halls and conference/convention centres;
  • Facilities used for sports and fitness activities and personal fitness training, such as gyms, fitness and recreational facilities with the exception of youth recreational sport;
  • Sporting events;
  • Casinos, bingo halls and gaming establishments;
  • Concerts, music festivals, theatres and cinemas;
  • Strip clubs, bathhouses and sex clubs;
  • Racing venues (e.g., horse racing).

For these purposes, “full vaccination” means having completed a two-shot course of vaccination at least 14 days earlier. Vaccination receipts can be downloaded from the provincial booking portal. Those with medical reasons for not being fully vaccinated can be admitted to venues with a doctor’s note while the government develops a system for recording exempt status electronically. Certain temporary alternatives will be permitted for those attending weddings and funerals in the three-week period beginning September 22, 2021.

The focus of the vaccination requirement is to reduce exposures in situations that do not constitute essential activities. Thus, for example, access to grocery stores will not require proof of vaccination. Note that existing indoor masking requirements will remain in place.

July 9: Ontario Advances to “Step 3” on Friday, July 16 – Ahead of Schedule

On July 9, 2021, the Government of Ontario announced that, as of 12:01 a.m. on Friday, July 16, 2021 Canada’s most populous province will advance to Step Three of its “Roadmap to Reopen” plan. Premier Doug Ford noted that this step will be taken sooner than expected thanks to the province’s strong vaccination numbers: 77%+ with one dose and 50%+ with two (among Ontarians age 12 and above) – as well as to its declining case and ICU utilization rates.

Indoor face-covering and social distancing requirements are not changing in Step Three, which will remain in place for at least 21 days, until 75% of the population is fully vaccinated (with no public health region falling under 70%) and other key-indicator thresholds have been met. At the stage following Step Three (but not at Step Three itself), the vast majority of restrictions will be lifted.

As of July 16, 2021, the following “Step Three” rules will apply:

  • Social gatherings and public events may have up to 100 people (outdoors) or 25 people (indoors);
  • Indoor religious ceremonies and rites, including weddings and funerals, are permitted with physical distancing;
  • Indoor dining is permitted with no per-table limits, with physical distancing and other restrictions;
  • Nightclubs, restobars and other indoor food or drink establishments where dancing is permitted, can operate at 25% capacity to a maximum of 250 persons;
  • Indoor sports and recreational spaces can operate at 50% capacity, including 50% for spectators to a maximum of 1,000 persons.
  • Outdoor sports facilities can operate at 75% of usual capacity, to a maximum of 15,000 persons.
  • Indoor meeting and event spaces can operate at 50% capacity, to a maximum of 1,000 persons, with physical distancing and other restrictions;
  • Restrictions on retail operations, both essential and non-essential and including personal care services, are now limited to the 2m physical distancing requirement only. Any number of patrons may be admitted provided that such distancing can be maintained;
  • Museums, galleries, historic sites, casinos, bingo halls, fairs, exhibitions, etc., can operate at 50% capacity indoors and 75% capacity outdoors;
  • Concert venues, cinemas and theatres can operate indoors at 50% capacity, to a maximum of 1,000 persons and outdoors at 75% capacity to a maximum of 5,000 patrons for unseated events and 15,000 for events with fixed seating); and
  • Restrictions on real estate open houses are now limited to the 2m physical distancing requirement only. Any number of persons may be admitted provided that such distancing can be maintained.

While Ontario’s reopening is proceeding more rapidly than some had predicted, provincial officials caution that the above limitations must be carefully observed as the prevalence of the Delta variant in Ontario distinguishes its epidemiological situation from a number of Canada’s other provinces and territories. Please note that the list above is a summary and that official regulations may contain more detail in some cases.

June 28: Ontario to Take “Step 2” on Wednesday

The Government of Ontario recently announced that, as of 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, June 30, 2021, the province will advance to Step Two of its “Roadmap to Reopen”. This step, taken somewhat earlier than anticipated, is in response to continued positive trends in the case rate and ICU use, coupled with vaccination rates that have reached 76% (first dose) and 29% (second dose) among Ontario adults. While this significant progress could potentially have justified moving directly to Step Three, the province has opted to proceed more cautiously and will likely remain at Step Two for 21 days.

The following will be permitted in Step Two:

  • Social gatherings and public events of up to 25 people (outdoor) and 5 people (indoor);
  • Retail operations permitted at 50% capacity (essential) or 25% (non-essential);
  • Personal care services, with face covering at all times and 25% capacity and other limits;
  • Outdoor dining with up to 6 per table (or one family) and other restrictions;
  • Religious services, weddings, funerals etc. at 25% capacity;
  • Outdoor fitness classes to the extent that 3-metre spacing can be maintained;
  • Non-contact outdoor sports, without limit on numbers but with certain other restrictions;
  • Kids’ overnight camps, with adherence to safety guidelines;
  • Most outdoor facilities at 25% capacity, including:
    • Sports facilities;
    • Racetracks;
    • Concert, theatre and cinema venues;
    • Fairs, festivals and rural exhibitions.

As noted, the Government is currently optimistic that Step Two will apply only for a few weeks and that the broader reopening envisaged at Step Three is now on the horizon. The description above is only a summary; please see the Stage 2 regulation for additional information, including a more complete list of applicable restrictions.

June 7: First Steps on Ontario’s Road to Reopen

On June 7, 2021, the Government of Ontario announced that, as of 12:01 a.m. on Friday, June 11, 2021, the province would proceed to Step One of its “Roadmap to Reopen”. This is possible because the 60% first-vaccination benchmark has been reached (the figure is currently 72% of all adults), while other COVID-19 health indicators continue to improve.

The biggest changes in Step One relate to outdoor activities, which are now permitted in many circumstances that were previously forbidden. From a business perspective, there are fewer immediate changes. The Government’s release notes that as of June 11:

  • Non-essential retail is permitted to open at up to 15% of capacity and essential retail is permitted to open at up to 25% of capacity.
  • Restaurants are permitted to serve food outdoors with up to 4 patrons per table (or more, if they are a single household).
  • Outdoor fitness classes and sports training activities can resume with up to 10 people.
  • Racetracks and motor speedways may operate without spectators.

Step One will remain in place for at least 21 days, after which Ontario will advance to Step Two if adult second-vaccinations reach 20% while other indicators continue to improve.

June 2: The Stay-at-Home Order Expires

The Government of Ontario announced on June 1, 2021 that it would not extend the Stay-at-Home Order due to expire on June 2. As a result, Ontarians will now be able to leave their homes for reasons other than those that were permitted under the Order. The announcement notes that nothing else will change. The existing restrictions on gatherings, retail sales, etc., will continue until the province reaches the vaccination threshold that allows it to proceed to Step One of the Roadmap to Reopen (described in the May 20, 2021 update immediately below).

May 20: Ontario Releases “Roadmap to Reopen”

On May 20, 2021, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced “Roadmap to Reopen”, a three-step plan that will guide the province as it emerges from over a year of COVID-19 related restrictions. As in certain other provinces, the reopening will proceed on the basis of vaccination and hospitalization benchmarks. The province will not return to the colour-coded system that was used over the winter: rather than taking a regional approach, it will instead reopen provincewide, by activity and sector.

Also announced was that, as of 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, May 22, golf courses, tennis courts, baseball diamonds, basketball courts, skate parks and certain other open-air amenities will be able to reopen in accordance with applicable capacity restrictions and for limited purposes (e.g. not for recreational classes).

Step 1 (Approximately Mid-June 2021)

The first significant aspects of the economic reopening are likely to take effect in mid-June, when it is forecast that the benchmark of 60% vaccination among adults (at least 1 dose) will have been achieved (allowing 2 weeks for administered vaccine to take effect). At that point, Step 1 will occur:

  • Outdoor sports, day camps and campgrounds will be allowed to reopen;
  • Non-essential retailers may open at 15% capacity;
  • Outdoor dining will be permitted for up to 4 people;
  • The size of permissible outdoor gatherings will be increased to 10 people.

Note that the 25% capacity limit for essential retailers will remain in place, with no restrictions on the types of goods that may be sold.

Step 2 (Potentially Mid-July 2021)

The vaccination benchmarks for Step 2 are 70% adult vaccination, including 20% with at least 2 doses. Permitted in Step 2 are (among others):

  • Non-essential retail at 25% capacity; essential retail at 50%;
  • Outdoor gatherings up to 25 people;
  • Outdoor dining with 6 persons per table;
  • Outdoor sports and leagues;
  • Outdoor tour and guide services;
  • Outdoor cinemas and artistic performances;
  • Outdoor waterparks and amusement parks;
  • Fairs and rural exhibitions.

Note that the above must take place within capacity limits and other applicable restrictions.

Step 3 (Potentially Mid-August 2021)

Depending on the success of Step 2, Ontario will proceed to Step 3 when 70-80% of adults are vaccinated, including 25% with at least 2 doses. At this time, Step 3 is slightly less clearly defined than Steps 1 and 2, but in general it will involve the following:

  • Outdoor events mentioned in “Step 2” will increase their capacity limits, with some being permitted to move indoors;
  • Indoor events of most kinds will be permitted, with capacity limits (these include restaurant dining, fitness facilities, museums, casinos, bingo halls and meeting and event spaces, among others).

Note that the above must take place within capacity limits and other applicable restrictions.

Further Information

The Roadmap to Reopen provides a useful chart for businesses, setting out the implications of each Step for each sector.

May 13: Extension of Stay-at-Home Restrictions to June 2

On April 16, 2021, Ontario’s provincial government unveiled additional measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. On May 13, the terminal date of the measures was extended from May 20 to June 2. They include:

  • Increased focus by the Ministry of Labour on workplace inspections and enforcement of existing restrictions, including safety protocols within workplaces and ensuring that employees are working remotely if possible;
  • Restrictions on interprovincial travel by land between Ontario and its neighboring provinces of Manitoba and Québec;
  • Suspension of non-essential construction activity, including construction at shopping malls, hotels and office towers;
  • Reduced capacity for retail stores permitted to remain open to 25%; and
  • Closure of certain outdoor amenities such as golf courses, basketball courts, etc.

While the April 16, 2021 announcement initially stated that playgrounds would be closed and that police and bylaw officers would have increased authority to stop people to confirm their reasons for being outside their homes, the government announced on April 17, 2021 that it had decided not to proceed with those measures.

Our Employment & Labour Group has written a post that looks at some of the implications of these changes from an employer’s standpoint.

Ontario Declares Emergency; Issues Province-wide Stay-at-Home Order effective April 8, 2021

Faced with a relentless rise in COVID-19 hospital and ICU admissions, the Government of Ontario announced on April 7, 2021 that a “Stay-at-Home Order” (the “Order”) will be in effect as of 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, April 8, 2021. Under the Order, Ontarians in every region will be required to stay at home other than while engaging in certain essential activities, which are primarily limited to:

  • Grocery and drugstore shopping;
  • Going to the doctor or to another healthcare provider;
  • Exercising outdoors; and
  • Performing work that cannot be performed remotely.

Ontario retailers will face significant new restrictions under the Order.

  • Most non-essential retailers will be restricted to curbside pickup, by appointment, between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. and delivery between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.;
  • In-person shopping at discount and big-box stores will be limited to essential goods only (e.g. groceries, pet supplies, cleaning supplies and health and personal care items);
  • Shopping malls will be allowed to operate for curbside pickup and delivery, with very limited provision for indoor service (see the news release);
  • Certain retail categories may remain open at 25 percent capacity, including safety supply stores; assistive device (e.g. hearing aids or walking aids) retailers; opticians; auto, equipment leasing and rental locations; auto and watercraft dealerships; auto repair shops and the cellphone sales and repair sections of retail stores operated by telecom providers.

The Government is also committing to stepping up workplace inspections, particularly in regional “hot zones”.

“Emergency Brake” Applied as Province Moves to Shutdown as of April 3, 2021

On Thursday, April 1, 2021, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that all 34 of the province’s health regions will move to “shutdown” status as of 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, April 3. This means that the colour-coded COVID-19 Response Framework will be paused and the entire province will be subject to the same set of restrictions, which are similar to the restrictions that had previously applied in Toronto, Peel Region and other health regions that were in the “Grey (Lockdown)” category.

The new measures, which will be in place for at least one month, require Ontarians to stay at home as much as possible, limit close contacts to their own household and limit outdoor gatherings to 5 people, with appropriate physical separation in all cases. The Government is not issuing a formal stay at home order.

During the shutdown, personal services businesses (e.g. hair salons) will be closed, along with indoor and outdoor recreation facilities. Restaurants will have to revert to take-out and delivery service only, as patio dining and indoor dining will both be prohibited. Retail stores selling essential goods will be able to operate at 50% capacity, while other retailers will be allowed to operate at 25% capacity.

Ottawa Region Moves Up to Red (Control) Level as of March 19, 2021

As of 12:01 a.m., Friday, March 19, 2021, the Ottawa Public Health region will move up to the Red (Control) level in Ontario’s New Framework for pandemic related restrictions, the provincial government has announced. This decision, taken in conjunction with the province’s public health authorities, is the result of an observed increase of approximately 25% in Ottawa Public Health’s case rate between March 10 and March 15.

Meanwhile, five regions – Toronto and neighbouring Peel Region, Lambton County (including the city of Sarnia) and the Sudbury and Thunder Bay districts in northern Ontario – remain at the Grey (Lockdown) level.

The complete list of Ontario health regions is as follows:

Grey (Lockdown): Lambton | Peel Region | Sudbury and District | Thunder Bay District | Toronto.

Red (Control): Durham Region | Halton Region | Hamilton | Niagara Region | North Bay-Parry Sound District | Northwestern | Ottawa | Peterborough | Simcoe-Muskoka District | Region of Waterloo | Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph | Windsor-Essex | York Region.

Orange (Restrict): Brant County | Chatham-Kent | Eastern Ontario | Haldimand-Norfolk | Middlesex-London | Porcupine | Southwestern | Timiskaming.

Yellow (Protect): Algoma | Haliburton-Kawartha-Pine Ridge District | Huron-Perth | Leeds-Grenville and Lanark | Renfrew County and District.

Green (Prevent): Grey-Bruce | Hastings-Prince Edward | Kingston-Frontenac-Lennox & Addington.

Complete information about the restrictions that apply at each of the five “colour” levels is available here

Final Three Regions to Return to the New Framework on March 8, 2021; Other Shifts Take Effect in Some Areas

On March 5, 2021, the Government of Ontario announced that, as of Monday, March 8, 2021, the last three health regions that had remained under the December 26, 2020 stay-at-home order will return to the “colour-coded” New Framework system.

Specifically, Toronto and neighbouring Peel Region will be designated “Grey (Lockdown)” – the most restrictive category – while North Bay-Parry Sound will be in the “Red (Control)” group. Among other things, this will allow for more in-person shopping in these three regions and will provide greater latitude for outdoor get-togethers provided that numerical limits and social-distancing rules are observed.

In addition, the following health regions that had already returned to the New Framework will change levels:

  • Peterborough, Sudbury and Simcoe-Muskoka will move to Red (“up” in the first two cases; “down” in the last);
  • Haldimand-Norfolk and Timiskaming will move to up to Orange from Yellow and Green, respectively;
  • Haliburton-Kawartha-Pine Ridge and Renfrew will shift to Yellow (“down” in the first case, “up” in the second).

All other Ontario health regions remain at the levels indicated in our post of March 1, 2021 (see below or the Government of Ontario website for further details).

Two Up, Seven Down: Ontario Announces Regional Framework Movements as of March 1, 2021

The Government of Ontario recently announced that, as of Monday, March 1, 2021, a number of the province’s health regions will be moving to new colour-coded categories within the province’s New Framework for COVID-19 response. In most cases, the regions in question will be moving “down” to less restrictive categories, but in two cases – Simcoe-Muskoka and Thunder Bay – the most restrictive (“lockdown”) measures will now be in effect.

The complete list of Ontario health regions is as follows. Those that changed their classifications as of March 1 are in bold:

Grey (Lockdown): Simcoe-Muskoka District, Thunder Bay District.

Red (Control): Durham Region, Halton Region, Hamilton, Niagara Region, Region of Waterloo, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, Windsor-Essex, York Region.

Orange (Restrict): Brant County, Chatham-Kent, Eastern Ontario, Haliburton-Kawartha-Pine Ridge District, Lambton, Middlesex-London, Ottawa, Porcupine, Southwestern, Sudbury and Districts.

Yellow (Protect): Algoma, Haldimand-Norfolk, Huron-Perth, Northwestern, Peterborough.

Green (Prevent): Grey-Bruce, Hastings-Prince Edward, Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington, Leeds-Grenville and Lanark, Renfrew County and District and Timiskaming.

Three of Ontario’s health regions – North Bay-Parry Sound, Peel and Toronto – will remain outside the New Framework system for at least Monday, March 8, 2021. In those regions, the stay-at-home order that was introduced on December 26, 2020, and which superseded the New Framework, continues in force.

York Region Returns to New Framework on Monday, February 22, 2021; Return of Toronto, Peel and North Bay Delayed (February 19, 2021)

On February 19, 2021, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that, in consultation with local health authorities, the Government of Ontario has decided that the return of Toronto, Peel and North Bay-Parry Sound to the New Framework will be delayed until at least Monday, March 8, 2021. Those regions will continue to follow the stay-at-home order that was originally imposed on the entire province late in December, 2020. The fourth region that had remained under the stay-at-home order, York Region, has improved its Covid-19 numbers to the point that justifies a return to the New Framework as of 12:01 a.m. Monday, February 22, 2021.

Also, as of Monday, February 22, 2021, the worsening situation in the Lambton region in southwestern Ontario (including the City of Sarnia) will require that region to be shifted from Orange (Restrict) to Red (Control).

Most Ontario Regions Return to the New Framework (February 16, 2021)

As of February 16, 2021, the “opening” status of all but four of Ontario’s health regions is now once again based on the colour-coded “New Framework” system that the province unveiled in November 2020. The New Framework had been overridden since December 26, 2020 by the province-wide lockdown. The regional designations are as follows:

Grey (Lockdown): Niagara Region. [note: this type of “lockdown” is different than the previous stay-at-home order]

Red (Control): Chatham-Kent, Durham Region, Halton Region, Hamilton, Middlesex-London, Region of Waterloo, Simcoe-Muskoka District, Southwestern, Thunder Bay District, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, Windsor-Essex.

Orange (Restrict): Brant County, Eastern Ontario, Haldimand-Norfolk, Haliburton-Kawartha-Pine Ridge District, Huron-Perth, Lambton, Ottawa, Porcupine, Sudbury and Districts.

Yellow (Protect): Algoma, Grey-Bruce, Northwestern, Peterborough.

Green (Prevent): Hastings-Prince Edward, Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington, Leeds-Grenville and Lanark, Renfrew County and District and Timiskaming.

Four of Ontario’s health regions – North Bay-Parry Sound, Peel, Toronto and York – will remain outside the New Framework system until February 22, 2021 at latest. In the meantime, those regions will continue to be subject to the shutdown and stay-at-home orders that have been in place since December 26, 2020.

Details of the revised New Framework are found in the immediately following section.

Ending the State of Emergency and Allowing for Limited Reopening under the New Framework (February 8, 2021)

On February 8, 2021, the Government of Ontario announced that the State of Emergency that had been in effect since January 13, 2021 would end at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, February 10, 2021. At that point, the province will return to the regional “colour-coded” risk categorization framework (“New Framework”) that was previously in use.

While the public emergency is ending, the stay-at-home order is now scheduled to remain in place for most of Ontario until February 16, 2021. The exceptions are the City of Toronto and the adjacent Regions of Peel and York, where the stay-at-home order has been extended to February 22, 2021, and the following regions, in which the order will be lifted on February 10, 2021:

  • Hastings-Prince Edward;
  • Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington; and
  • Renfrew County and District.

These three regions will revert to “green” (“prevent”) status on February 10, 2021. All other regions remain at the “grey” (“lockdown”) level for the time being.

Most of the requirements of the New Framework are unchanged, but some significant modifications have been made, notably to allow for more in-store shopping while strengthening protections in those businesses. New and adjusted requirements include:

  • Adjusting capacity in grey and red zones to 50%/75% for grocery stores (including convenience stores and pharmacies) and 25%/50% for non-grocery retailers (including big box stores) (the first figure is for grey zones and the second is for red zones);
  • Requiring businesses in grey and red zones to post their capacity limits;
  • Requiring all businesses to post a safety plan;
  • Requiring* the posting of signs outside the premises clearly indicating how to screen for Covid-19 before entering the premises;
  • Requiring* the active screening of employees before they enter a business; and
  • Requiring* the active screening patrons before they enter enclosed retail malls.

*Importantly, the requirements to screen employees and patrons (and to post relevant signage), as indicated immediately above, apply subject to precise directions and orders that may be issued by the Chief Medical Officer of Health or another public health official.

The Government will also allow the Chief Medical Officer of Health to order any region to return to the grey level with immediate effect should the situation in that region suddenly worsen. The Government is referring to this as a “hand brake” mechanism that circumvents the need for new regulations where an immediate change in policy is critical.

The Government’s media release noted the increased use of inspections: in the first month of 2021, over 1100 big box stores and other essential retail businesses (as then defined) were visited by provincial inspection teams, who issued a total of 112 tickets.

Return to State of Emergency and New Stay-at-Home Order (January 12, 2021)

On January 12, 2021, in response to an increasing case load that is straining Ontario’s health care system, Premier Doug Ford announced that, for the first time since July 2020, the province will be under a State of Emergency (effective 12:01 on Wednesday, January 13, 2021).

In addition, with effect from 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, January 14, 2021, Ontario is imposing a set of restrictions intended to reduce the number of contacts that could spread the virus.

As announced at the Premier’s news conference and in the accompanying press release, these measures include those set out below. We will endeavour to update this post to the extent that further details or clarifications are provided in the course of the next few days.

Stay-at-home requirements

  • Beginning on January 14, 2021, Ontario residents are required to stay at home at all times, except when they must leave for essential purposes (including grocery shopping, medical appointments and going to a pharmacy) or other purposes that are permitted (including curbside pickup from retailers that are able to offer it).
  • Working from home will be mandatory where it is practical for an employee to do so. Businesses are responsible for ensuring that the only employees working on site are those who genuinely need to be there.
  • These requirements are distinct from a curfew inasmuch as there will be no enforcement against those who leave their homes for the purpose of physical exercise, walking a dog, etc., provided that they are compliant in all other respects.

Opening hours shortened for all but the most essential retailers

  • Non-essential retail stores may open only between the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. This includes certain stores where indoor shopping is allowed (such as alcohol retailers) as well as those stores that are open for curbside delivery only.
  • Opening hours of grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores and restaurants (take-out and delivery services) are not limited.

More rapid testing for businesses

  • Ontario will make 300,000 Covid-19 rapid tests available per week in support of key economic sectors (manufacturing, warehousing, food processing and others) as well as in long-term care homes and educational facilities.

Evictions moratorium

  • The government plans to announce a moratorium on residential evictions in the near future. Further information was not provided at the news conference.

New limitations on construction projects

  • Non-essential construction, including projects below grade, is to be subject to new restrictions. Survey activity is exempt.

Stricter rules for outdoor gatherings and outdoor mask use

  • Outdoor gatherings will be limited to 5 people, rather than the current 10.
  • Masks are now recommended outdoors, where physical distancing cannot be maintained. They continue to be mandated indoors (in businesses and other non-residential spaces).

Extension to at-home schooling in several regions

  • Among several other announcements relating to childcare and schooling issues, the Government has ordered that in-person instruction will not resume in five heavily-populated regions of Ontario until February 10, 2021 at the earliest: Windsor-Essex, Peel Region, York Region, Toronto and Hamilton.

Intensified enforcement efforts

  • The Government announced that it intends to intensify its efforts to ensure that workplaces are complying with regulations relating to the pandemic and that retail businesses, notably “big box” stores, are adhering to applicable occupancy limits.
  • New enforcement measures under Ontario Regulation 8/21 allow provincial offences officers, as well as police officers, to enforce rules relating to public events or gatherings, including by ordering offenders to vacate premises in which unlawful gatherings are being held.
  • Fines and prosecutions will be pursued, where appropriate, under the Reopening Ontario and Emergency Measures These could include prison sentences in certain cases.

Ontario’s New Framework and the December 26 Lockdown

On November 3, 2020, the Government of Ontario released the COVID-19 Response Framework (“New Framework”), which replaces the previous Framework for Reopening Our Province (“Old Framework”). The New Framework introduces a five-level, colour-coded scheme with clearly-defined criteria for each stage. Shortly thereafter, on November 13, 2020, some of the criteria in the New Framework were revised in order to allow for the introduction of more stringent control measures at an earlier stage. The New Framework took effect in most regions on November 7, 2020 and was fully in force across the province as of November 16, 2020. On November 20, 2020, Toronto and Peel Region were moved to the “Lockdown” level, while a number of other regions were also moved to new levels, primarily higher levels, with effect from Monday, November 23. Additional changes have occurred over the following weeks, as indicated below.

NOTE: While the New Framework – possibly with some modifications – will continue to guide the province’s response over the medium and long term, the Government of Ontario announced on December 21, 2020 that, as of 12:01 a.m. on December 26, 2020 (Boxing Day), the entire province will go into a lockdown for either two weeks (in Northern Ontario) or four weeks (in Southern Ontario).

During the provincewide shutdown (full details available here), the following restrictions will apply (among others):

  • Indoor social gatherings will be limited to those within a single household (or two households, where one of them consists of a person living alone);
  • In-person shopping will be prohibited in most retail stores (other than curbside pickup and delivery). Grocery stores and pharmacies will continue with limited-capacity indoor sales.
  • Access to indoor shopping malls to be limited to areas designated for indoor pickup and access to supermarkets and pharmacies, as well as to food court restaurants (take-out orders only).
  • Restaurants will no longer be permitted to provide any indoor or outdoor service. Delivery, take-out and drive-through may continue
  • For the seven northern health regions—Algoma, North Bay-Parry Sound, Northwestern, Porcupine, Sudbury, Thunder Bay and Timiskaming – the lockdown is scheduled to conclude on January 11, 2021. Elsewhere in the province, the lockdown will end on January 25, 2021.

Framework levels

While the New Framework has been paused from December 26, 2020 for 2-4 weeks, as noted above, its response level scheme may continue to be used afterward, pending any modifications that may be made in light of the province’s experience during the lockdown.

From least to most restrictive, the framework levels (with descriptions and associated colours) are:

  1. Prevent (Standard Measures) [GREEN]
  2. Protect (Strengthened Measures) [YELLOW]
  3. Restrict (Intermediate Measures) [ORANGE]
  4. Control (Stringent Measures) [RED]
  5. Lockdown (Maximum Measures) [GREY]

To relate this to the Government of Ontario’s original reopening plan, referred to in many of our posts from the Spring and Summer (see below), Levels 1, 2 and 3 are approximately the equivalent of “Stage 3”, while Level 4 roughly corresponds to “Stage 2” and Level 5 to “Stage 1.” Therefore, while at one point all Ontario regions had reached Stage 3, the New Framework was implemented with five regions in the Toronto-Hamilton area at Level 4, reflecting the upsurge in COVID-19 cases and mortality in those areas.

Criteria for the framework levels

The New Framework defines the five levels using numerical criteria:

  • “Prevent” applies where the weekly incidence rate is <10 per 100,000, test positivity is <0.5% and R0 is <1 (“R0” essentially represents the rate at which the disease is spreading);
  • “Protect” is in effect where incidence rises to 10-24.9 per 100,000, test positivity is between 0.5% and 1.2% and R0 is between 1 and 1.1;
  • “Restrict” requires 25-39.9 incidence, test positivity 1.3-2.4% and R0 in the 1-1.1 range;
  • “Control” requires the weekly incidence level in a region must generally be 40 per 100,000 or greater, with test positivity at 2.5% or higher and R0 at 1.2 or above;
  • “Lockdown” will be declared if the measures taken at the “Control” level do not seem to be bringing the pandemic under control.

In addition to the criteria above, hospital patient loads and public health contact-tracing capacity will also be considered. Measures may be applied regionally, as is currently the case.

Sectors to which specific standards apply

The “Prevent”, “Protect” and “Restrict” categories allow for more subtle changes to be implemented according to a standardized schema that is easier for business, and the public, to understand. The New Framework includes specific standards for the following:

  • General public health measures
  • Restaurants, bars etc.
  • Sports and recreational fitness
  • Meeting and event spaces
  • Retail
  • Personal care services
  • Casinos, bingo halls and gaming establishments
  • Cinemas
  • Performing arts facilities

The specific restrictions applying at each level, to each of the above, are too numerous to discuss here. To take restaurants and bars as an example, “Prevent” will not limit the number of people at a table, while “Protect” will allow a maximum of 6 persons and “Restrict” a maximum of 4. Similarly, closing hours will be unrestricted under “Prevent”, while at the “Protect” level, establishments must close at midnight and under “Restrict” they must close at 10 p.m. Many other restrictions apply in this sector and to each of the other sectors listed above. Please see the last part of the New Framework document for complete information.

Date in force

The transition from the Old Framework to the New Framework is in effect in all parts of Ontario as of November 16, 2020.

Available assistance

As of November 16, 2020, businesses in “Control” or “Lockdown” can apply for specific relief with respect to their property taxes or energy costs. Additional small business relief was announced as a part of the lockdown announcement on December 21, 2020.

Restrictions by region

As noted above, the Government of Ontario applies restrictions in response to regional trends. Currenty there is a wide variance in COVID-19 prevalence across Ontario, with some regions still only minimally affected while others are experiencing significant community transmission. At the time of writing, the restrictions are as follows, but we caution that changes to this list are frequent. The following apply as of Monday, December 14 until the beginning of the province-wide lockdown at 12:01 a.m. on December 26:

  • Toronto, York Region, Peel Region and Windsor-Essex County health regions are under “Lockdown” (Grey).
  • Currently at “Control” level (Red) are the health regions of Durham, Halton, Hamilton, Middlesex-London, Simcoe-Muskoka, Waterloo Region and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph.
  • The next level, “Restrict” (Orange), is in effect in Brant, Haldimand-Norfolk, Huron Perth, Southwestern, Niagara, Eastern Ontario, Ottawa and Thunder Bay health regions.
  • At the next highest level, “Protect” (Yellow), are Chatham-Kent, Grey-Bruce, Haliburton-Kawartha-Pine Ridge, Hastings and Prince Edward Counties, Lambton, Leeds-Grenville and Lanark, Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington, Northwestern, Peterborough, and Sudbury and District health regions.
  • At the lowest level, “Prevent” (Green), are five health regions in the north-central and northeastern parts of the province: Algoma, North Bay-Parry Sound District, Porcupine, Renfrew County and District and Timiskaming.

October 9: Ontario Announces Plans to Move Three Regions to “Modified” Stage 2

On October 9, 2020, after an extended period in which all regions of Ontario were at Stage 3 – the most advanced stage of the province’s “Restart” phase – the Government of Ontario has introduced additional targeted public health measures in the Ottawa, Peel, and Toronto public health unit regions. This announcement, which comes after a surge of infections in those regions, essentially returned Ottawa, Peel and Toronto to Stage 2 (with some modifications to the previous Stage 2 requirements) as of 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, October 10, 2020. Toronto and Ottawa are the two largest cities in Ontario, while Peel Region is home to over 1 million people and lies immediately west of the City of Toronto.

These new restrictions, which will continue for at least 28 days, will generally require the following types of business to close (in the Ottawa, Peel and Toronto regions only):

  • Indoor gyms and fitness centres (i.e., exercise classes and weight and exercise rooms);
  • Casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments;
  • Indoor cinemas;
  • Performing arts centres and venues;
  • Spectator areas in racing venues;
  • Interactive exhibits or exhibits with high risk of personal contact in museums, galleries, zoos, science centres, landmarks, etc.;

Other prohibitions include:

  • Prohibiting indoor food and drink service in restaurants, bars, nightclubs, food court areas in malls and other food and drink establishments;
  • Prohibiting personal care services where face coverings must be removed for the service (e.g. makeup application, beard trimming);
  • Limiting team sports to training sessions (no games or scrimmages).

Businesses in Ottawa, Peel and Toronto will generally be subject to indoor and outdoor gathering limits, which will be decreased to 10 people (indoors) and 25 people (outdoors), with the proviso that physical distancing and other safety requirements are met. These new gathering limits also apply to wedding receptions as of October 13, 2020. Schools, childcare centres, and places of worship may remain open in these communities provided that they continue to follow the public health measures in place. Before-school and after-school programs will also be exempt from these new restrictions.

In all other regions of Ontario, the Stage 3 rules that were announced on July 13, 2020 are still in effect (see below).

July 13: Ontario Announces Plans for Advancing Most Regions to Stage 3

On July 13, 2020, the Government of Ontario announced that many of the province’s health regions will proceed to Stage 3 of the reopening plan as of 12:01 a.m. on Friday, July 17. Because the Chief Medical Officer of Health requires at least four weeks of Stage 2 data to approve a region for advancing to Stage 3, a number of regions that were delayed in reaching Stage 2 will not move to Stage 3 at this time. These include a number of the most populous areas of Ontario:

  1. Durham
  2. Haldimand-Norfolk
  3. Halton
  4. Hamilton
  5. Lambton
  6. Niagara
  7. York
  8. Peel
  9. Toronto
  10. Windsor-Essex

The first seven regions in the list above may be approved to move to Stage 3 as early as July 24, with Peel and Toronto potentially following one week later. The final region to move to Stage 2, Windsor-Essex, is likely also to be the last to move to Stage 3, with possible further delays in the Essex County communities of Leamington and Kingsville.

All regions not listed above will be moving to Stage 3 on July 17.

According to the Minister of Finance, about 99% of businesses will be able to operate in Stage 3, provided that they are in compliance with physical distancing and other safety requirements. The reopening order allows for the remaining businesses to propose safe reopening plans that the Government, in consultation with health authorities, can approve within the scope of Stage 3. Businesses and commercial activities that are not approved for reopening in Stage 3 include:

  • Amusement parks and water parks;
  • Buffet-style food services;
  • Dancing at restaurants and bars (other than professional performers following specific requirements);
  • Overnight stays at children’s camps;
  • Private karaoke rooms;
  • Sporting activities involving prolonged or deliberate contact;
  • Saunas, steam rooms, bathhouses and oxygen bars;
  • Table games at casinos and gaming establishments.

Businesses in categories that are not included in the general Stage 3 reopening can visit www.Ontario.ca/reopen to submit their own reopening proposals.

Businesses generally will be subject to indoor and outdoor gathering limits, which will be increased in Stage 3 to 50 (indoor) and 100 (outdoor), with the proviso that physical distancing and other safety requirements are met. Childcare businesses will be able to operate with cohorts of 15 children, up from 10 currently.

June 22: Toronto and Peel Region Advance to Stage 2; Special Measures for Windsor-Essex Announced

On June 22, 2020, the Government of Ontario announced that as of June 24, the City of Toronto and the adjacent Region of Peel will become the 32nd and 33rd of the province’s 34 public health regions to reach Stage 2 of the reopening process. At Stage 2, the following types of business activity may resume:

  • Outdoor dine-in services at restaurants, bars and other establishments;
  • Personal care services such as hair salons, barbershops and tattoo parlours;
  • Shopping malls (under existing restrictions, e.g. against sit-down service at restaurants);
  • Tour and guide services (bus and boat tours, winery tours, etc.);
  • Private campgrounds;
  • Outdoor recreational facilities;
  • Drive-in and drive-through theatres, concert venues, animal attractions etc.;
  • Film and TV production activities;
  • Weddings and funerals (with social gatherings limited to 10 people).

As of June 24, the only Public Health Region remaining at Stage 1 will be Windsor-Essex in the extreme southwest of the province, where the elevated incidence of COVID-19 among agricultural workers continues to be a priority for provincial, federal and local health authorities. The June 22 announcement includes new funding and other measures to increase testing and reduce transmission in Windsor-Essex. The Government of Ontario anticipates that all 34 regions will be at Stage 2 in the near future.

June 8: 24 of 34 Public Health Regions Advance to Stage 2

On June 8, 2020, Premier Doug Ford announced that, beginning Friday, June 12, the majority of Ontario’s public health regions (24 of 34) will advance to Stage 2 of the reopening process. The exceptions are the regions that form the GTA (including the City of Toronto) as well as Hamilton, Niagara, Windsor and Haldimand-Norfolk. Other than Haldimand-Norfolk, these regions are among the most heavily populated in the province. The reason that they will remain at Stage 1 is that they continue to be more affected by COVID-19 than other regions.

The regions that are advancing to Stage 2 (which include Ottawa, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, Middlesex-London, Waterloo, Peterborough, Kingston, Simcoe-Muskoka and nearly all northern and rural districts) will see the reopening of the following:

  • Outdoor dine-in services at restaurants, bars and other establishments;
  • Personal care services such as hair salons, barbershops and tattoo parlours;
  • Shopping malls (under existing restrictions, e.g. against sit-down service at restaurants);
  • Tour and guide services (bus and boat tours, winery tours, etc.);
  • Private campgrounds;
  • Outdoor recreational facilities;
  • Drive-in and drive-through theatres, concert venues, animal attractions etc.
  • Film and TV production activities;
  • Weddings and funerals (with social gatherings limited to 10 people).

In all cases, businesses falling under these classifications will be required to ensure that health and safety measures applicable to them are complied with.

Until all regions have proceeded to Stage 2, the Government of Ontario will review the status of those regions that remain at Stage 1 at its Monday news conferences. Re-openings announced at those news conferences will normally be scheduled for the following Friday.

The Government plans to release details on the availability of services that support employment – such as childcare, summer camps and public transit – in the near future.

May 14: Additional Sectoral Re-openings Announced

At his May 14, 2020 media briefing, Premier Ford announced further re-openings around the upcoming Victoria Day long weekend.

Specifically, as of Saturday, May 16:

  • Golf courses, marinas and public boat launches can open to the public (with golf course clubhouses limited to washroom and take-out restaurant services only);
  • Private campgrounds and parks can open to prepare for the summer season and may also open to trailer and RV owners with full-season contracts; and
  • Stables and similar facilities can allow owners of animals that they board to visit, care for or ride their animals.

Immediately after the long weekend, as of Tuesday, May 19, the following additional openings will be permitted (provided that there is not been any change in the improving public health trends):

  • Non-mall retailers with their own street-front entrances, if they have appropriate physical distancing measures in place (e.g. limiting the number of customers in the store, etc.);
  • Construction sites (existing “essential workplace” limits to be lifted);
  • Seasonal businesses and recreational activities for individual or single competitors, including certain sports competitions, whether taking place indoors or outdoors (e.g. tennis, track and field and horse racing);
  • Animal services (e.g. veterinary appointments, pet care and grooming);
  • Household services, whether indoors or outdoors, that can follow public health guidelines (e.g. housekeeping, cleaning and maintenance); and
  • Certain non-COVID related medical services that meet certain conditions (e.g. scheduled surgeries and counselling).

The Government also announced the Workplace PPE Directory, a website designed to provide businesses with information on suppliers of personal protective equipment (PPE).

May 1: Certain Sectors to Re-open May 4, 2020

The Ontario government announced on May 1, 2020 that, as of Monday, May 4 at 12:01 a.m., several workplace types can get back to business, with some restrictions, provided that the pandemic-related health and safety guidelines relevant to those sectors are followed.

The sectors that can return to business are as follows (with restrictions as noted):

  • Garden centres and nurseries (curbside pickup and delivery only);
  • Lawn care and landscaping;
  • Construction projects involving any of the following (in addition to projects already permitted to proceed):
    • Shipping and logistics;
    • Broadband telecommunications and digital infrastructure;
    • Improvements to delivery of goods and services;
    • Municipal, college and university projects;
    • Schools and child-care centres;
    • Site prep, excavation and servicing for most types of development;
  • Car washes (automatic and self-serve);
  • Car dealerships (by appointment only);
  • Golf courses and marinas (preparation for the upcoming season only, as specified, with no public use or access permitted).

As noted above, these sectors are required to operate in accordance with health and safety standards and in particular are expected to follow the best practices guidance that is applicable to their sector. For example, the construction sector should follow the guidance issued in March and amended in April. The complete list of sector-specific guidance released to date is available here.

April 30: Government Releases Best Practices Guidelines for Four Key Sectors

The provincial government announced additional measures on April 30, 2020 that are aimed at promoting workplace health and safety in several key sectors. Specifically, these “best practices” guidelines apply to the manufacturing, food manufacturing/processing, restaurant/food service and agricultural sectors. They build on previously issued guidelines for the construction industry as well as recommendations developed for certain other workplaces in collaboration with industry-focused health and safety associations. Ontario is committing 58 additional workplace inspectors to the effort, who will focus primarily on communicating best practices to employers.

Overview of the guidelines

The Government of Ontario’s general resources page for all sector-specific guidelines is here. As noted above, the sectors to which the April 30 announcement applies are the following:

The guidelines are arranged in a similar way for each sector, with dozens of specific recommendations listed under the following headings (among others):

  • Protecting yourself and your co-workers (e.g. by hand-washing and staying home when ill);
  • Physical distancing (e.g. by holding team meetings outdoors or installing plexiglass barriers);
  • Workplace sanitation (e.g. by providing hand sanitizer, improving ventilation and staggering work schedules);
  • Workplace tracking (e.g. by keeping records of where each worker has been in the workplace);
  • Reporting illness (e.g. by encouraging workers to do Ontario’s online self-assessment);
  • Sharing information (e.g. by using up-to-date workplace posters re COVID-19 policies).

Depending on the industry sector, additional recommendations may also be made. For example, in the case of restaurants (and food manufacturers with associated retail operations), there is a recommendation against accepting reusable bags from customers and a recommendation that staff be assigned to monitor physical distancing by customers. In most respects, however, the recommendations are fairly similar for all sectors.

The government is also making a range of safety posters available for downloading (see an example here; others are available on the resource page).

Going forward

The best practices are recommendations and, as appropriate, will be incorporated into the advice that provincial labour inspectors may offer in the course of their on-site inspections. While the Government indicated that such inspections would at least initially be conducted primarily to help businesses understand how to comply, there will also be an enforcement element in cases where compliance efforts fall short.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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