By MPP Toby Barrett

On Thursday, April 8, 2021, Ontario issued a Provincial Emergency and Stay-at-Home order requiring everyone to remain at home except for essential purposes. This includes going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services (including being vaccinated), outdoor exercise, or for work that cannot be done remotely.

Recently, COVID case rates, hospitalizations and hospital ICU occupancy have been increasing rapidly and are threatening to overwhelm our health care system and its ability to care for patients. 

The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the province has increased by 28.2 per cent between March 28 and April 5, 2021. In addition, between March 28 and April 5, Ontario has seen the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care escalate by 25 per cent. The province is reaching a tipping point despite Ontario taking every possible measure to increase capacity and to continue daily surgeries and procedures.

As a result, the Ontario government, in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health and other health experts, declared a third provincial emergency under s 7.0.1 (1) of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act

As Ontario’s health care capacity is threatened, the Stay-at-Home order, and other new and existing public health and workplace safety measures will work to preserve public health system capacity, safeguard vulnerable populations, allow for progress to be made with vaccinations and ultimately save lives.

Schools are safe. The data speaks for itself — 99 per cent of students and staff have no active cases. Regrettably, school disruptions have a significant and highly inequitable impact on students, parents and society. Keeping schools and childcare open is critical to the mental health and well-being of Ontario children and youth. With strict safety measures in place, schools and childcare will remain open for in-person care and learning in public health regions where permitted. In addition, beginning this week, education workers who provide direct support to students with special education needs across the province, and all education workers in select hot spot areas, will be eligible to register for vaccination.

Vaccinations are not reaching the highest risk communities, delaying the impact as an effective preventative strategy. As part of Phase Two of its COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan, people living in regions with the highest rates of transmission are prioritized to receive a vaccine, starting with the most at-risk in the Peel and Toronto public health regions. This initiative will be expanding to additional “hot spot” regions and vulnerable populations based on established patterns of transmission, severe illness and mortality.

Health and safety inspectors and provincial offenses offices will increase inspections and enforcement at essential businesses in regional hot zones to continue protecting essential workers while on the job. To test for asymptomatic staff in key sectors such as manufacturing, warehousing, supply chain, mining, construction and food processing rapid tests continue to be deployed.

By imposing these strict new measures, we will keep people safe while allowing our vaccination program to reach more people, starting with our high-risk population and identified hot spots. Although this is difficult, I urge everyone to follow these public health measures and together we will defeat this deadly virus.

This Stay-at-Home order will control the surge; protect access to care, and increase the chance of the summer people want.

Toby Barrett is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk