03/17/2020 08:39 EDT | Updated 03/17/2020 13:34 EDT

Ontario Declares State Of Emergency Over COVID-19 Pandemic

"This is not a provincial shutdown," Premier Doug Ford says.

TORONTO — Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency Tuesday, forcing the immediate closure of some businesses, hours before the province reported its first death related to COVID-19.

“We’re facing an unprecedented time in our history,” Ford told reporters at Queen’s Park. “This is a decision that was not made lightly. COVID-19 constitutes a danger of major proportions.”

Frank Gunn/Canadian Press
Ontario Premier Doug Ford declares a state of emergency at the Ontario legislature in Toronto on March 17, 2020.

The state of emergency means that: 

  • Events with more than 50 attendees are immediately prohibited,
  • Bars and restaurants may open only for takeout or delivery orders,
  • All daycare centres, indoor recreation centres, private schools, theatres, cinemas and concert venues must close. 

The premier specified that businesses that provide essentials, like grocery stores and pharmacies, will stay open, as will public transit, convenience stores, construction sites, office buildings and manufacturing facilities.

“This is not a provincial shutdown,” he said.

First death reported in Ontario

Health officials also said Tuesday that a man in Ontario tested positive for COVID-19 after his death. The 77-year-old was not listed as a confirmed case of the disease before his death but had close contact with someone who was, a spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott said.

Another eight new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus that originated in China’s Hubei province in December, were reported in Ontario Tuesday.

There are now 180 active cases of the illness in the province. Another five people were diagnosed but have since recovered and 1,567 people are waiting for test results, according to the latest update Tuesday from the province. 

“Right now, we need to do everything possible to slow the spread of COVID-19 in order to avoid overwhelming our health-care system,” Ford said Tuesday. 

The Progressive Conservative government will spend $300 million to hire an extra 1,000 nurses and 1,000 personal support workers, as well as 50 emergency physicians to work in remote, rural and Indigenous communities. 

Right now, we need to do everything possible ... to avoid overwhelming our health-care system.Premier Doug Ford

The province is moving to create 75 more critical care beds, 500 post-acute care beds and 25 more COVID-19 assessment centres, the premier added. There are already 17 special assessment centres open for diagnosing the disease. 

“We listened to front-line workers and this surge funding will back them up in the fight against COVID-19.”

Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath said she was “relieved and supportive” of the decision to declare a state of emergency. 

“These are unprecedented times, and Queen’s Park needs to take unprecedented actions to protect and support Ontarians,” she said in a statement, adding that she is still waiting for details of how the province will provide financial support to citizens.

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