Ontario COVID-19 update: Provincial emergency

13 January 2021

On January 12, 2021, in response to record increases in daily new COVID-19 case growth, the Ontario Government announced a second provincial State of Emergency under s. 7.0.1 (1) of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act ("Provincial Emergency").

This new Provincial Emergency is effective immediately, and expected to remain in effect until at least February 11, 2021.

As part of its announcement, the province has introduced a new "Stay-At-Home-Order", and new restrictions that affect both essential and non-essential businesses and organizations, as well as individuals.

The province has also introduced a new "Stay Safe All Day" campaign, administered by the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development ("MOL"), which aims to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in workplaces located throughout the province.

Provincial Stay-at-Home-Order

The provincial Stay-At-Home-Order will become effective Thursday, January 14, 2021 at 12:01 a.m. This order will restrict any person from leaving their home for any reason other than "essential purposes". Based on currently available information, "essential purposes" include:

  • shopping at grocery stores or pharmacies;
  • accessing health care services;
  • engaging in outdoor exercise; or
  • essential travel to and attendance at the workplace.

New Public Gathering Restrictions

Outdoor organized public gatherings and social gatherings are further restricted to a limit of five (5) persons, with narrow exceptions. These gathering restrictions are consistent with the rules that were in place during the first Provincial Emergency during spring 2020.

New Restrictions – Businesses and Organizations

All non-essential retail stores will be permitted to open no earlier than 7:00 a.m. and close no later than 8:00 p.m. Based on current information, "non-essential retail stores" include:

  • hardware stores;
  • alcohol retailers; and
  • retail stores offering curbside pickup or delivery.

These restricted hours of operation do not apply to:

  • stores that primarily sell food;
  • pharmacies;
  • gas stations;
  • convenience stores; and
  • restaurants that offer takeout or delivery.

Further restrictions apply to businesses engaged in "non-essential construction". The province has indicated that "non-essential construction" includes below-grade construction, and that exemptions will apply (including for surveyors).

Indoor Masking Requirements

The province has also announced that all persons are required to wear a mask or face covering that covers their mouth, nose and chin, when they are in the indoor areas of a businesses or organization that is permitted to remain open during the Provincial Emergency.

Wearing a mask or face covering is now recommended when outdoors, and physical distance of at least two (2) metres cannot be maintained.

Work From Home (Except Where Necessary)

All businesses will be required to ensure that any employee who can work from home, does work from home. It is expected that limited exceptions will apply, for instance, where the nature of work requires an employee to be on-site at the workplace.

Schools and Child Care Centres

Schools in the following public health units ("PHU") will not return to in-person instruction until February 10, 2021:

  • Windsor-Essex
  • Peel Region
  • Toronto
  • York
  • Hamilton

Child care centres will remain open for non-school-aged children. Emergency child care for school-aged children will end in approved PHU regions on January 22, 2021, as elementary schools return to in-person learning. Emergency child care will continue for eligible families in regions subject to school closures.

Ministry of Labour: "Stay Safe All Day" Campaign

The MOL's new "Stay Safe All Day" campaign will focus inspections on high-transmission workplaces, and specific areas within those workplaces, including break rooms. The MOL will be providing additional educational materials to employers, to promote worker compliance with COVID-19 safety requirements before, during and after work.

Based on published information, the MOL will focus inspections on workplaces with COVID-19 outbreaks, as well as several sector-specific workplaces, including:

  • manufacturing businesses;
  • warehouses;
  • distribution centres;
  • food processing operations;
  • construction projects; and
  • publicly accessible essential workplaces, such as grocery stores.


Provincial offences officers, including the Ontario Provincial Police, local Police Services, By-Law officers, and Provincial Workplace Inspectors (including MOL inspectors), are authorized to issue tickets to any individuals not complying with the province's directives, and to businesses / organizations that do not comply with or enforce the new requirements.


The governmental response to COVID-19 is ever evolving. We anticipate more details and guidance from the province will be forthcoming. Please continue to monitor our website for updates on the new rules and restrictions that apply to your organization. Should you have any questions or concerns regarding the new Provincial Emergency, Stay-At-Home-Orders, compliance requirements, or any of the other restrictions noted above, the Gowling WLG Employment, Labour & Equalities Group would be pleased to assist. To find out more about our Group, and how to contact a specific lawyer, click here.

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