With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rising in Ontario at a concerning pace due to the rapid transmission of new variants, on April 1, 2021, the province filed Ontario Regulation 240/21 under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020 (Reopening Act), imposing an “emergency brake” across the province. In accordance with this Regulation, which came into force on April 3, 2021, all public health units in Ontario were moved to the Shutdown Zone of the Stage 1 Rules for at least four weeks. After this time, the impact of the shutdown will be evaluated to determine if it is safe to lift the restrictions or if they need to be extended.
The Stage 1 Rules for public health units in the Shutdown Zone set out in Ontario Regulation 82/20 now apply to all public health units in Ontario effective April 3, 2021. These rules consist of General Rules for Shutdown Zone (Schedule 1), and rules relating to: Businesses that May Open in Shutdown Zone (Schedule 2); Places that Must Close or that are Subject to Conditions in Shutdown Zone (Schedule 3); Organized Public Events, Certain Gatherings (Schedule 4); and Individuals Eligible for Emergency Childcare (Schedule 5). These rules include, but are not limited to, the following restrictions:
- Indoor organized public events and social gatherings are prohibited;
- The capacity for outdoor organized public events or social gatherings is limited to five persons, except for gatherings with members of the same household, or gatherings of members of one household and one other person from another household who lives alone;
- In-person shopping in all retail settings is restricted to:
- 50% capacity limit for supermarkets, grocery stores, convenience stores, indoor farmers' markets, other stores that primarily sell food, and pharmacies; and
- 25% capacity for all other retail including big-box stores.
- Personal care services are prohibited;
- Indoor and outdoor dining are prohibited, although restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments are permitted to operate by take-out, drive-through, and delivery;
- The use of facilities for indoor or outdoor sports and recreational fitness (e.g., gyms) is prohibited with very limited exceptions;
- Day camps must close; and,
- Capacity at weddings, funerals, and religious services, rites or ceremonies is limited to 15% occupancy per room indoors, and to the number of individuals that can maintain two metres of physical distance outdoors. Social gatherings associated with these services such as receptions are not permitted indoors and are limited to five people outdoors.
Furthermore, on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, residents of Ontario are asked to limit trips outside their homes to obtaining necessities such as food, medication, medical appointments, supporting vulnerable community members, or exercising outdoors with members of their household. In addition, employers in all industries are advised to make every effort to allow employees to work from home.
Finally, on April 1, 2021, Ontario also filed Ontario Regulation 239/21 under the Reopening Act. Under this Regulation, which also came into force on April 3, 2021, businesses that sell the items listed below may open, subject to restrictions relating to areas of the business where members of the public may not enter, and to test drives:
- motor vehicles, including cars, trucks and motorcycles;
- recreational vehicles, including motor homes;
- trailers and travel trailers;
- boats and other watercraft; or
- other motorized vehicles, including power-assisted bicycles, golf carts, scooters, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles.
Bottom Line for Employers
Employers are encouraged to adhere to the Shutdown Rules and to consult experienced employment counsel if they require clarification of any rules that may apply to them.