(Reuters) -Ontario will begin a four-week stay-at-home order on Thursday and shut down in-store purchases for non-essential retailers, Prime Minister Doug Ford said on Wednesday, as the Canadian province battles a surge in COVID cases. -19. .
“The situation is extremely serious. We have to duck right now, ”Ford said at a briefing in Toronto.
“What we do until we begin to achieve 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 remain in their residences, except for essential reasons, including exercise, vaccination appointments or trips to the grocery store.
Last week, Ontario closed all indoor and outdoor restaurants, a move that fell short of what the government’s expert advisory panel said was necessary to avoid catastrophically high COVID-19 case numbers.
Starting Thursday, all retailers except grocery stores, pharmacies and garden supply vendors will be closed for four weeks, though curbside pick-up will be allowed. Large stores may remain open, but with capacity limits and only certain products, including groceries, pharmacy, and garden supplies, are available for in-store purchase.
Industry groups had criticized Ford for allowing large stores to stay open during past closures while small businesses closed.
Retailers deemed essential may open for in-store purchases by appointment only. These include auto mechanic, optical and medical device supply and repair shops.
On Tuesday, Canada reported 6,520 COVID-19 cases.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has warned of a “very serious” third wave of the virus, with more young people being admitted to hospitals and ventilators powered by more dangerous virus variants.
Ontario hospitals are getting more and more stretched. Provincial data showed more COVID-19 patients in intensive care units (ICUs) than at any time since the pandemic began.
ICU admissions are increasing faster than the worst-case scenario modeled by experts, Ford said.
Ontario plans to expand vaccination in neighborhoods with higher infection rates, by implementing mobile clinics in community centers, workplaces and other locations that will vaccinate residents 18 and older.
The province also announced that all teachers and educational staff in Toronto and the Peel suburb would be eligible for vaccination starting with the school districts’ April holidays, as well as special education teachers across the province.
On Tuesday, Toronto Public Health closed the city’s schools for in-person learning, sending the nation’s largest school district with around 247,000 students back to remote learning through April 18.
Hours earlier, Ford had told reporters that schools were safe and closures would be unnecessary.
Ontario reported 3,215 new cases Wednesday, according to government data.
Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Edited by David Gregorio and Bill Berkrot