UPDATE: On Feb 8, Ontario's Ford government announced that the province-wide stay-at-home order will be ending for certain areas. On Feb. 10, the public health regions of Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health, Hasting Prince Edward Public Health, and Renfrew County and District Health Unit will move into the green level of the colour-coded shutdown system, which means that indoor dining, bars, and malls will reopen. The stay-at-home order will remain in effect in Toronto, Peel Region, and York Region until at least February 22, and in all other regions until February 16. In the same press conference, the province announced that in areas where stay-at-home orders are lifted, any non-essential retailers will be allowed to reopen for in-person shopping at 25% capacity in order to “support the province’s economic recovery.”
Original story, published on January 13, 2021, follows
With COVID-19 positivity rates climbing by the day and hospitals anticipating overload, provincial governments across Canada are introducing new* preventative measures (*that, FWIW, don’t seem that different from the old ones). These include a curfew in Quebec, limits on social gatherings in B.C., a lockdown extension in Alberta and, as of Thursday, a state of emergency in Ontario. The goal is get this freaking pandemic under control and to put Canadians on blast after some lax behaviour over the holidays.
But do curfews even work? What’s the difference between a lockdown and stay-at-home orders? And how is it okay to go skating when you’re supposed to be staying home? Here, we make sense of the latest rules, including why you are totally right to be totally confused.
Ontario just declared a state of emergency. What does that mean exactly?
A state of emergency is really just a tool in the provincial government’s kit. By declaring one, the powers that be can enact policies that would not normally be authorized in a free society like Canada, and enforce these policies using fines and jail time. A state of emergency doesn’t mean implementing any measures in particular. In Ontario, it has allowed for new stay-at-home orders, “requiring everyone to remain at home with exceptions for permitted purposes or activities, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing healthcare services, for exercise or for work where the work cannot be done remotely.”
Wait. But weren’t we already supposed to stay home?
Well you’d think so, right? Ontarians have been under lockdown since December 26 and “just stay home friends” has been the messaging since November. But if you look at the latest mobility data (info on individual movement pulled from cell phones — yes, that’s legal), it’s clear that not everyone is following the rules, which, until now, were more like strongly worded recommendations. According to Premier Doug Ford, at least a third of Ontarians have been ignoring public health guidelines. The effect, in the simplest terms possible, is that too many people are having too many contacts outside of their home.
Do we know who the rulebreakers are?
According to the most recent data, the 20-29 age bracket is responsible for the highest percentage of new cases among Canadians, which is a lot different from earlier in the pandemic when Boomers were the ones behaving badly. There’s no question that social gatherings are part of the reason rates are continuing to spread (illegal bar parties as well as inter-household gatherings over the holidays). But before you go blaming the avocado toast generation: “This age group may be the most likely to have the kinds of jobs that don’t allow working from home,” says Dr. Maria Sundaram, an epidemiologist with University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
What’s the difference between a lockdown and stay-at-home orders?
Both mean the same thing in terms of behaviour, but the state of emergency means that stay-at-home orders are now enforceable by fines (up to $10,000 for hosting an illegal gathering) and/or penalties (up to a year in jail). The same is true of the curfew in Quebec, where more than 740 tickets have been handed out since last weekend (including one to a woman who attempted to get around the rules by walking her husband on a leash).
Okay, but seriously. Am I allowed to walk my dog?
In Quebec, yes (assuming the dog is on a leash within a kilometre of your home… and is not your human husband). In Ontario, also yes. Permitted outdoor activities include pooch promenades, and some kinds of exercise: running but not pick-up ball, skating but not downhill skiing. Note that there is a new limit on outdoor gatherings in Ontario, so if your dog park gang is over five people, you could get a ticket. It’s not entirely clear how enforcement will work. Apparently cops and bylaw officers will have some discretion in determining the validity of reasons for being away from home, which has critics pointing out the potential for inequitable and racist policing practices.
Quebec has a curfew; Ontario has stay-at-home orders. What’s the difference?
Both measures are designed to deal with the whole too many people/too many contacts issue. A curfew — as any former teenager is well aware — is about not going out at night (between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. in Quebec), whereas stay-at-home orders are round the clock, and arguably stricter. That said, curfew has certain authoritarian state connotations, which is probably why Doug Ford has come out against one. “Governments consider the public health benefits of various measures,” says Dr. Sundaram. “But they also consider which restrictions the public is more likely to be willing to buy into.”
Do curfews even work?
“Curfews can be effective in reducing contacts — especially for people who have no choice but to be out during those hours,” says Dr. Sundaram. In the U.S., curfews have been used to keep people out of high-risk areas like bars and restaurants, which makes a lot of sense (drunk people being the absolute worst at social-distancing), but isn’t an issue in Ontario and Quebec, where indoor dining and drinking is currently shut down.
“If you’re someone who has already been following guidelines, you’re not going to feel an effect from a curfew or stay-at-home orders,” Sundaram says. But for the rulebreakers among us, curfews may provide a much-needed buzzkill.
We’re all supposed to stay home, but coffee shops, skating rinks and big-box stores are still open. Sooooooo...
There are a whole whack of inconsistencies in the latest rules, all designed to address competing issues: public health interests vs. economic interests, the health benefits of staying indoors vs. the health benefits of getting outside for exercise, politicians wanting to keep the public safe without seeming like draconian dictators. Speaking with CP24 this morning, Toronto Mayor John Tory conceded that many of the current rules don’t make much sense. We may or may not get more clarity in the coming days. When in doubt, though, just remember that staying at home whenever possible means exactly that.
Does home include a cottage or chalet?
Not unless you have been living at your secondary residence full-time. In a release addressing a bunch of FAQs, the province says travelling between regions is currently a no-no.