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January 13, 2021

Ontario Declares Provincial Emergency, Announces New COVID-19 Restrictions and Enhanced Enforcement Efforts

Author Hendrik Nieuwland

On January 12, 2021, the Ontario government announced that it is issuing a stay-at-home order, new COVID-19 restrictions, and enhanced enforcement efforts across the province.

Stay-at-home order

Effective January 14, 2021 at 12:01am, Ontario’s stay-at-home order will require individuals to remain at home, with exceptions for essential purposes, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services, for exercise, or for essential work. During the announcement, Premier Ford made it clear that the stay-at-home order is not a curfew, and individuals will not be policed for leaving their homes. Pursuant to the stay-at-home order, all businesses are required to ensure that any employee who can work from home, does work from home.

New COVID-19 restrictions

The following measures will come into effect between Tuesday January 12, 2021 and Thursday, January 14, 2021:

  • Outdoor organized public gatherings are restricted to a limit of five (5) people with limited exceptions.
  • All non-essential retail stores, including hardware stores, alcohol retailers, and those offering curbside pickup or delivery will have restricted hours. These stores must open no earlier than 7am and close no later than 8pm. The restricted hours of operation do not apply to stores that primarily sell food, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores, and restaurants for takeout or delivery.
  • Non-essential construction is further restricted, including below-grade construction, exempting survey.
  • For businesses that are open, individuals must wear a mask or face covering when indoors. Wearing face coverings outdoors is also recommended when individuals cannot physically distance by more than two metres.


As of the posting of this blog, the Ontario government has not announced which businesses will be considered “essential” under these new restrictions.

Enhanced enforcement efforts

All enforcement and provincial offences officers, including the Ontario Provincial Police, local police, bylaw officers, and workplace inspectors (“Enforcement Personnel”) will have the authority to temporarily close a premise and disperse individuals who are in contravention of an order, or are gathering contrary to the restrictions imposed by the government.

All Enforcement Personnel will also have authority to issue tickets to individuals who do not comply with the stay-at-home order, and who fail to wear masks or face coverings indoors. Businesses who fail to enforce these measures will also be subject to fines.

Businesses and individuals who fail to abide by orders will be subject to fines and may be prosecuted under both the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, and the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. 

The government also announced that the Ministry of Labour (“MOL”) will be increasing workplace inspection efforts, with a focus on inspecting high transmission areas of workplaces, including break rooms. Specifically, the MOL will use data to focus inspections on workplaces with reported COVID-19 outbreaks. Manufacturing businesses, warehouses, distribution centres, food processing operations, construction projects, long-term care homes, retirement homes, and publicly accessible workplaces deemed essential, such as grocery stores, should expect to see increased inspection efforts.

Additional measures

The MOL will be providing new educational materials to employers to promote safe worker behavior before, during and after work.

The Ontario government also announced that, in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces, the province will provide up to 300,000 COVID-19 tests per week to support key sectors such as manufacturing, warehousing, supply chain and food processing. The government will provide additional tests for schools and long-term care homes.


Our firm will continue to provide you with updates as the Ontario Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic evolves.

The foregoing is for informational purposes only and should in no way be relied upon as legal advice. For legal advice tailored to your circumstances and business, please contact any of SOM LLP’s lawyers by email or telephone.


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