Ontario declares state of emergency due to COVID-19

ONTARIO—Premier Doug Ford placed Ontario under a state of emergency at a morning press conference today, Tuesday, March 17, a status that grants the government strong powers in an attempt to safeguard the health and safety of the province’s population until March 31.

Several changes come into effect immediately because of the declaration. All facilities that provide indoor recreation programs are required to close. Public libraries must shut their doors along with private schools, licenced child care centres, all bars and restaurants (except takeout and delivery services), all theatres including film, live-action, dance, music and other art-hosting spaces, and all concert venues.

Events that hold more than 50 people are banned, which includes parades and communal services within places of worship.

“We are facing an unprecedented time in our history,” said Premier Ford. “This is a decision that was not made lightly. COVID-19 constitutes a danger of major proportions. We are taking this extraordinary measure because we must offer our full support and every power possible to help our health care sector fight the spread of COVID-19. The health and well-being of every Ontarian must be our number one priority.”

This declaration was approved by the Lieutenant Governor in Council. Although it only extends until the end of the month, March 31, it will be re-assessed and possibly extended if needed at that time.

“We are acting on the best advice of our chief medical officer of health and other leading public health officials across the province,” said Christine Elliott, deputy premier and minister of Health. “We know these measures will affect people’s every day lives, but they are necessary to ensure that we can slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect our people. We’re working with all partners across the system, from public health to hospitals and community care, to do everything we can to contain this virus and ensure that the system is prepared to respond to any scenario.”

The emergency declaration is a provision under section 7.0.1 (1) of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. By closing these spaces, the province aims to reduce the amount of person-to-person contact and their exposure to COVID-19 as a result.

Premier Ford also announced that Ontario’s previously-announced COVID-19 contingency fund would be bolstered by additional federal funding and is now worth $304 million, up from its intial amount of $100 million.

Of that fund, $100 million will be spent on increasing hospital capacity, $50 million will be spent to increase the province’s COVID-19 testing and screening abilities, $50 million is for additional personal protective equipment (PPE) and other critical supplies needed by patients and health care workers, $25 million will go to support assessment centre workers including a fund for services such as respite care and child care, $50 million will be spent on 24/7 screening, extra staffing and infection control at long-term care facilities, $5 million will go to protect seniors in retirement homes by increasing screenings and infection control, and $4 million will go to Indigenous communities to aid in transportation costs for health workers and needed supplies.

Finally, $20 million will go to residential facilities in developmental services, gender-based services and protective care for children and youth. This will cover extra staffing, respite for caregivers impacted by school closures, extra cleaning, PPE and supplies as well as transportation in an effort to minimize client exposure to the virus.

In the Subury-Manitoulin area, Health Sciences North is running a COVID-19 assessment centre. Clients must call ahead to make an appointment if they wish to be assessed, as there will be no accepted walk-ins at the emergency department. Not everyone who attends the clinic will get tested. The clinic can be reached by phoning 705-671-7373 any day of the week between 9 am and 5 pm.

Public Health Sudbury and Districts is also running a general information hotline for COVID-19 at 1-866-522-9200. This is available during business hours and some evenings and weekends; callers have the option of leaving a message and a public health worker will respond within 24 hours.

If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, which range in severity and mainly include fever, cough and difficulty breathing, call Public Health Sudbury and Districts at 705-522-9200 and mention your symptoms and travel history.

If you are ill and require medical attention, always call your health provider in advance and tell them that you have a respiratory illness. If you require emergency medical attention, you must tell the 911 operator about your symptoms and travel history.

The Expositor will continue to share news as it develops. For more information about the virus as it relates to the Sudbury and Manitoulin area, visit the public health unit’s website at PHSD.ca/COVID-19.