Ontario on Thursday will begin a four-week home order and close retail for non-essential retailers, premiered Doug Ford on Wednesday as the Canadian province battles for a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases.
“The situation is extremely serious. We have to go down now,” Ford said at a briefing in Toronto.
“What we do until we start achieving mass immunization will be the difference between life and death for thousands of people,” he said.
The order requires people in Canada’s most populous province to stay in their homes except for essential reasons, including exercise, vaccination meetings or food trips.
Last week, Ontario closed all indoor and outdoor cafes, a step that did not match what the government’s expert council said was necessary to avoid catastrophically high COVID-19 cases.
From Thursday, all retailers except grocery stores, pharmacies and sellers of garden tools will be closed for four weeks, although pick-up in progress will be allowed. Large box stores can remain open, but with capacity limitations and only certain products including groceries, pharmacies and garden supplies that can be purchased in the store.
Industry groups had criticized Ford for allowing large box stores to be open during previous locks while closing small businesses.
Retailers deemed necessary can only open to stores by appointment. These include delivery and repair of medical devices, optical shops and car mechanics.
On Tuesday, Canada reported 6,520 COVID-19 cases.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned of a “very serious” third wave of the virus, with more young people entering hospitals and on fans powered by more dangerous virus variants.
Hospitals in Ontario are getting more stretched. Provincial data showed more COVID-19 patients in intensive care units than at any time since the pandemic began.
ICU admissions are increasing faster than the worst case modeled by experts, Ford said.
Ontario plans to expand vaccination in neighborhoods with higher levels of infection by rolling out mobile clinics to community centers, workplaces and other places that will inoculate residents over the age of 18.
The province also announced that all teachers and educators in Toronto and the suburb of Peel would be eligible for vaccination beginning during the school district’s April break, as well as special educators throughout the province.
On Tuesday, Toronto Public Health closed the city’s schools for personal learning and sent the country’s largest school district with about 247,000 students back to distance learning through April 18.
A few hours earlier, Ford had told reporters that schools were safe and that closures would be unnecessary.
Ontario reported 3,215 new cases on Wednesday, according to government data.