As Ontario works through the COVID-19 pandemic, the provincial government regularly issues and adjusts restrictions on commercial activity in response to the latest developments. This post, which will be updated regularly as changes occur, contains updates on the province's latest responses to the crisis, focusing on those aspects that are most relevant to business operations in the province.

The latest update, published on March 5, 2021, reflects the return of North Bay-Parry Sound, Toronto and Peel Region to the New Framework system, with North Bay moving to "Red (Control)" and Toronto and Peel being designated "Grey (Lockdown)" as of March 8, 2021. In addition, the update notes several other level changes among health regions that had previously reverted to the New Framework.

Download the Government of Ontario's summary of its pandemic-related rules and restrictions here.

Final Three Regions to Return to the New Framework on March 8, 2021; Other Shifts Take Effect in Some Areas

On March 5, 2021, the Government of Ontario announced that, as of Monday, March 8, 2021, the last three health regions that had remained under the December 26, 2020 stay-at-home order will return to the "colour-coded" New Framework system.

Specifically, Toronto and neighbouring Peel Region will be designated "Grey (Lockdown)" - the most restrictive category - while North Bay-Parry Sound will be in the "Red (Control)" group. Among other things, this will allow for more in-person shopping in these three regions and will provide greater latitude for outdoor get-togethers provided that numerical limits and social-distancing rules are observed.

In addition, the following health regions that had already returned to the New Framework will change levels:

  • Peterborough, Sudbury and Simcoe-Muskoka will move to Red ("up" in the first two cases; "down" in the last);
  • Haldimand-Norfolk and Timiskaming will move to up to Orange from Yellow and Green, respectively;
  • Haliburton-Kawartha-Pine Ridge and Renfrew will shift to Yellow ("down" in the first case, "up" in the second).

All other Ontario health regions remain at the levels indicated in our post of March 1, 2021 (see below or the Government of Ontario website for further details).

Two Up, Seven Down: Ontario Announces Regional Framework Movements as of March 1, 2021

The Government of Ontario recently announced that, as of Monday, March 1, 2021, a number of the province's health regions will be moving to new colour-coded categories within the province's New Framework for COVID-19 response. In most cases, the regions in question will be moving "down" to less restrictive categories, but in two cases - Simcoe-Muskoka and Thunder Bay - the most restrictive ("lockdown") measures will now be in effect.

The complete list of Ontario health regions is as follows. Those that changed their classifications as of March 1 are in bold:

Grey (Lockdown): Simcoe-Muskoka District, Thunder Bay District.

Red (Control): Durham Region, Halton Region, Hamilton, Niagara Region, Region of Waterloo, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, Windsor-Essex, York Region.

Orange (Restrict): Brant County, Chatham-Kent, Eastern Ontario, Haliburton-Kawartha-Pine Ridge District, Lambton, Middlesex-London, Ottawa, Porcupine, Southwestern, Sudbury and Districts.

Yellow (Protect): Algoma, Haldimand-Norfolk, Huron-Perth, Northwestern, Peterborough.

Green (Prevent): Grey-Bruce, Hastings-Prince Edward, Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington, Leeds-Grenville and Lanark, Renfrew County and District and Timiskaming.

Three of Ontario's health regions - North Bay-Parry Sound, Peel and Toronto - will remain outside the New Framework system for at least Monday, March 8, 2021. In those regions, the stay-at-home order that was introduced on December 26, 2020, and which superseded the New Framework, continues in force.

York Region Returns to New Framework on Monday, February 22, 2021; Return of Toronto, Peel and North Bay Delayed (February 19, 2021)

On February 19, 2021, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that, in consultation with local health authorities, the Government of Ontario has decided that the return of Toronto, Peel and North Bay-Parry Sound to the New Framework will be delayed until at least Monday, March 8, 2021. Those regions will continue to follow the stay-at-home order that was originally imposed on the entire province late in December, 2020. The fourth region that had remained under the stay-at-home order, York Region, has improved its Covid-19 numbers to the point that justifies a return to the New Framework as of 12:01 a.m. Monday, February 22, 2021.

Also, as of Monday, February 22, 2021, the worsening situation in the Lambton region in southwestern Ontario (including the City of Sarnia) will require that region to be shifted from Orange (Restrict) to Red (Control).

Most Ontario Regions Return to the New Framework (February 16, 2021)

As of February 16, 2021, the "opening" status of all but four of Ontario's health regions is now once again based on the colour-coded "New Framework" system that the province unveiled in November 2020. The New Framework had been overridden since December 26, 2020 by the province-wide lockdown. The regional designations are as follows:

Grey (Lockdown): Niagara Region. [note: this type of "lockdown" is different than the previous stay-at-home order]

Red (Control): Chatham-Kent, Durham Region, Halton Region, Hamilton, Middlesex-London, Region of Waterloo, Simcoe-Muskoka District, Southwestern, Thunder Bay District, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, Windsor-Essex.

Orange (Restrict): Brant County, Eastern Ontario, Haldimand-Norfolk, Haliburton-Kawartha-Pine Ridge District, Huron-Perth, Lambton, Ottawa, Porcupine, Sudbury and Districts.

Yellow (Protect): Algoma, Grey-Bruce, Northwestern, Peterborough.

Green (Prevent): Hastings-Prince Edward, Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington, Leeds-Grenville and Lanark, Renfrew County and District and Timiskaming.

Four of Ontario's health regions - North Bay-Parry Sound, Peel, Toronto and York - will remain outside the New Framework system until February 22, 2021 at latest. In the meantime, those regions will continue to be subject to the shutdown and stay-at-home orders that have been in place since December 26, 2020.

Details of the revised New Framework are found in the immediately following section.

Ending the State of Emergency and Allowing for Limited Reopening under the New Framework (February 8, 2021)

On February 8, 2021, the Government of Ontario announced that the State of Emergency that had been in effect since January 13, 2021 would end at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, February 10, 2021. At that point, the province will return to the regional "colour-coded" risk categorization framework ("New Framework") that was previously in use.

While the public emergency is ending, the stay-at-home order is now scheduled to remain in place for most of Ontario until February 16, 2021. The exceptions are the City of Toronto and the adjacent Regions of Peel and York, where the stay-at-home order has been extended to February 22, 2021, and the following regions, in which the order will be lifted on February 10, 2021:

  • Hastings-Prince Edward;
  • Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington; and
  • Renfrew County and District.

These three regions will revert to "green" ("prevent") status on February 10, 2021. All other regions remain at the "grey" ("lockdown") level for the time being.

Most of the requirements of the New Framework are unchanged, but some significant modifications have been made, notably to allow for more in-store shopping while strengthening protections in those businesses. New and adjusted requirements include:

  • Adjusting capacity in grey and red zones to 50%/75% for grocery stores (including convenience stores and pharmacies) and 25%/50% for non-grocery retailers (including big box stores) (the first figure is for grey zones and the second is for red zones);
  • Requiring businesses in grey and red zones to post their capacity limits;
  • Requiring all businesses to post a safety plan;
  • Requiring* the posting of signs outside the premises clearly indicating how to screen for Covid-19 before entering the premises;
  • Requiring* the active screening of employees before they enter a business; and
  • Requiring* the active screening patrons before they enter enclosed retail malls.

*Importantly, the requirements to screen employees and patrons (and to post relevant signage), as indicated immediately above, apply subject to precise directions and orders that may be issued by the Chief Medical Officer of Health or another public health official.

The Government will also allow the Chief Medical Officer of Health to order any region to return to the grey level with immediate effect should the situation in that region suddenly worsen. The Government is referring to this as a "hand brake" mechanism that circumvents the need for new regulations where an immediate change in policy is critical.

The Government's media release noted the increased use of inspections: in the first month of 2021, over 1100 big box stores and other essential retail businesses (as then defined) were visited by provincial inspection teams, who issued a total of 112 tickets.

Return to State of Emergency and New Stay-at-Home Order (January 12, 2021)

On January 12, 2021, in response to an increasing case load that is straining Ontario's health care system, Premier Doug Ford announced that, for the first time since July 2020, the province will be under a State of Emergency (effective 12:01 on Wednesday, January 13, 2021).

In addition, with effect from 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, January 14, 2021, Ontario is imposing a set of restrictions intended to reduce the number of contacts that could spread the virus.

As announced at the Premier's news conference and in the accompanying press release, these measures include those set out below. We will endeavour to update this post to the extent that further details or clarifications are provided in the course of the next few days.

Stay-at-home requirements

  • Beginning on January 14, 2021, Ontario residents are required to stay at home at all times, except when they must leave for essential purposes (including grocery shopping, medical appointments and going to a pharmacy) or other purposes that are permitted (including curbside pickup from retailers that are able to offer it).
  • Working from home will be mandatory where it is practical for an employee to do so. Businesses are responsible for ensuring that the only employees working on site are those who genuinely need to be there.
  • These requirements are distinct from a curfew inasmuch as there will be no enforcement against those who leave their homes for the purpose of physical exercise, walking a dog, etc., provided that they are compliant in all other respects.

Opening hours shortened for all but the most essential retailers

  • Non-essential retail stores may open only between the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. This includes certain stores where indoor shopping is allowed (such as alcohol retailers) as well as those stores that are open for curbside delivery only.
  • Opening hours of grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores and restaurants (take-out and delivery services) are not limited.

More rapid testing for businesses

  • Ontario will make 300,000 Covid-19 rapid tests available per week in support of key economic sectors (manufacturing, warehousing, food processing and others) as well as in long-term care homes and educational facilities.

Evictions moratorium

  • The government plans to announce a moratorium on residential evictions in the near future. Further information was not provided at the news conference.

New limitations on construction projects

  • Non-essential construction, including projects below grade, is to be subject to new restrictions. Survey activity is exempt.

Stricter rules for outdoor gatherings and outdoor mask use

  • Outdoor gatherings will be limited to 5 people, rather than the current 10.
  • Masks are now recommended outdoors, where physical distancing cannot be maintained. They continue to be mandated indoors (in businesses and other non-residential spaces).

Extension to at-home schooling in several regions

  • Among several other announcements relating to childcare and schooling issues, the Government has ordered that in-person instruction will not resume in five heavily-populated regions of Ontario until February 10, 2021 at the earliest: Windsor-Essex, Peel Region, York Region, Toronto and Hamilton.

Intensified enforcement efforts

  • The Government announced that it intends to intensify its efforts to ensure that workplaces are complying with regulations relating to the pandemic and that retail businesses, notably "big box" stores, are adhering to applicable occupancy limits.
  • New enforcement measures under Ontario Regulation 8/21 allow provincial offences officers, as well as police officers, to enforce rules relating to public events or gatherings, including by ordering offenders to vacate premises in which unlawful gatherings are being held.
  • Fines and prosecutions will be pursued, where appropriate, under the Reopening Ontario and Emergency Measures These could include prison sentences in certain cases.

Ontario's New Framework and the December 26 Lockdown

On November 3, 2020, the Government of Ontario released the COVID-19 Response Framework ("New Framework"), which replaces the previous Framework for Reopening Our Province ("Old Framework"). The New Framework introduces a five-level, colour-coded scheme with clearly-defined criteria for each stage. Shortly thereafter, on November 13, 2020, some of the criteria in the New Framework were revised in order to allow for the introduction of more stringent control measures at an earlier stage. The New Framework took effect in most regions on November 7, 2020 and was fully in force across the province as of November 16, 2020. On November 20, 2020, Toronto and Peel Region were moved to the "Lockdown" level, while a number of other regions were also moved to new levels, primarily higher levels, with effect from Monday, November 23. Additional changes have occurred over the following weeks, as indicated below.

NOTE: While the New Framework - possibly with some modifications - will continue to guide the province's response over the medium and long term, the Government of Ontario announced on December 21, 2020 that, as of 12:01 a.m. on December 26, 2020 (Boxing Day), the entire province will go into a lockdown for either two weeks (in Northern Ontario) or four weeks (in Southern Ontario).

During the provincewide shutdown (full details available here), the following restrictions will apply (among others):

  • Indoor social gatherings will be limited to those within a single household (or two households, where one of them consists of a person living alone);
  • In-person shopping will be prohibited in most retail stores (other than curbside pickup and delivery). Grocery stores and pharmacies will continue with limited-capacity indoor sales.
  • Access to indoor shopping malls to be limited to areas designated for indoor pickup and access to supermarkets and pharmacies, as well as to food court restaurants (take-out orders only).
  • Restaurants will no longer be permitted to provide any indoor or outdoor service. Delivery, take-out and drive-through may continue.
  • For the seven northern health regions-Algoma, North Bay-Parry Sound, Northwestern, Porcupine, Sudbury, Thunder Bay and Timiskaming - the lockdown is scheduled to conclude on January 11, 2021. Elsewhere in the province, the lockdown will end on January 25, 2021.

Framework levels

While the New Framework has been paused from December 26, 2020 for 2-4 weeks, as noted above, its response level scheme may continue to be used afterward, pending any modifications that may be made in light of the province's experience during the lockdown.

From least to most restrictive, the framework levels (with descriptions and associated colours) are:

  1. Prevent (Standard Measures) [GREEN]
  2. Protect (Strengthened Measures) [YELLOW]
  3. Restrict (Intermediate Measures) [ORANGE]
  4. Control (Stringent Measures) [RED]
  5. Lockdown (Maximum Measures) [GREY]

To relate this to the Government of Ontario's original reopening plan, referred to in many of our posts from the Spring and Summer (see below), Levels 1, 2 and 3 are approximately the equivalent of "Stage 3", while Level 4 roughly corresponds to "Stage 2" and Level 5 to "Stage 1." Therefore, while at one point all Ontario regions had reached Stage 3, the New Framework was implemented with five regions in the Toronto-Hamilton area at Level 4, reflecting the upsurge in COVID-19 cases and mortality in those areas.

Criteria for the framework levels

The New Framework defines the five levels using numerical criteria:

  • "Prevent" applies where the weekly incidence rate is <10 per 100,000, test positivity is <0.5% and R0 is <1 ("R0" essentially represents the rate at which the disease is spreading);
  • "Protect" is in effect where incidence rises to 10-24.9 per 100,000, test positivity is between 0.5% and 1.2% and R0 is between 1 and 1.1;
  • "Restrict" requires 25-39.9 incidence, test positivity 1.3-2.4% and R0 in the 1-1.1 range;
  • "Control" requires the weekly incidence level in a region must generally be 40 per 100,000 or greater, with test positivity at 2.5% or higher and R0 at 1.2 or above;
  • "Lockdown" will be declared if the measures taken at the "Control" level do not seem to be bringing the pandemic under control.

In addition to the criteria above, hospital patient loads and public health contact-tracing capacity will also be considered. Measures may be applied regionally, as is currently the case.

Sectors to which specific standards apply

The "Prevent", "Protect" and "Restrict" categories allow for more subtle changes to be implemented according to a standardized schema that is easier for business, and the public, to understand. The New Framework includes specific standards for the following:

  • General public health measures
  • Restaurants, bars etc.
  • Sports and recreational fitness
  • Meeting and event spaces
  • Retail
  • Personal care services
  • Casinos, bingo halls and gaming establishments
  • Cinemas
  • Performing arts facilities

The specific restrictions applying at each level, to each of the above, are too numerous to discuss here. To take restaurants and bars as an example, "Prevent" will not limit the number of people at a table, while "Protect" will allow a maximum of 6 persons and "Restrict" a maximum of 4. Similarly, closing hours will be unrestricted under "Prevent", while at the "Protect" level, establishments must close at midnight and under "Restrict" they must close at 10 p.m. Many other restrictions apply in this sector and to each of the other sectors listed above. Please see the last part of the New Framework document for complete information.

Date in force

The transition from the Old Framework to the New Framework is in effect in all parts of Ontario as of November 16, 2020.

Available assistance

As of November 16, 2020, businesses in "Control" or "Lockdown" can apply for specific relief with respect to their property taxes or energy costs. Additional small business relief was announced as a part of the lockdown announcement on December 21, 2020.

Restrictions by region

As noted above, the Government of Ontario applies restrictions in response to regional trends. Currenty there is a wide variance in COVID-19 prevalence across Ontario, with some regions still only minimally affected while others are experiencing significant community transmission. At the time of writing, the restrictions are as follows, but we caution that changes to this list are frequent. The following apply as of Monday, December 14 until the beginning of the province-wide lockdown at 12:01 a.m. on December 26:

  • Toronto, York Region, Peel Region and Windsor-Essex County health regions are under "Lockdown" (Grey).
  • Currently at "Control" level (Red) are the health regions of Durham, Halton, Hamilton, Middlesex-London, Simcoe-Muskoka, Waterloo Region and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph.
  • The next level, "Restrict" (Orange), is in effect in Brant, Haldimand-Norfolk, Huron Perth, Southwestern, Niagara, Eastern Ontario, Ottawa and Thunder Bay health regions.
  • At the next highest level, "Protect" (Yellow), are Chatham-Kent, Grey-Bruce, Haliburton-Kawartha-Pine Ridge, Hastings and Prince Edward Counties, Lambton, Leeds-Grenville and Lanark, Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington, Northwestern, Peterborough, and Sudbury and District health regions.
  • At the lowest level, "Prevent" (Green), are five health regions in the north-central and northeastern parts of the province: Algoma, North Bay-Parry Sound District, Porcupine, Renfrew County and District and Timiskaming.

October 9: Ontario Announces Plans to Move Three Regions to "Modified" Stage 2

On October 9, 2020, after an extended period in which all regions of Ontario were at Stage 3 - the most advanced stage of the province's "Restart" phase - the Government of Ontario has introduced additional targeted public health measures in the Ottawa, Peel, and Toronto public health unit regions. This announcement, which comes after a surge of infections in those regions, essentially returned Ottawa, Peel and Toronto to Stage 2 (with some modifications to the previous Stage 2 requirements) as of 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, October 10, 2020. Toronto and Ottawa are the two largest cities in Ontario, while Peel Region is home to over 1 million people and lies immediately west of the City of Toronto.

These new restrictions, which will continue for at least 28 days, will generally require the following types of business to close (in the Ottawa, Peel and Toronto regions only):

  • Indoor gyms and fitness centres (i.e., exercise classes and weight and exercise rooms);
  • Casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments;
  • Indoor cinemas;
  • Performing arts centres and venues;
  • Spectator areas in racing venues;
  • Interactive exhibits or exhibits with high risk of personal contact in museums, galleries, zoos, science centres, landmarks, etc.;

Other prohibitions include:

  • Prohibiting indoor food and drink service in restaurants, bars, nightclubs, food court areas in malls and other food and drink establishments;
  • Prohibiting personal care services where face coverings must be removed for the service (e.g. makeup application, beard trimming);
  • Limiting team sports to training sessions (no games or scrimmages).

Businesses in Ottawa, Peel and Toronto will generally be subject to indoor and outdoor gathering limits, which will be decreased to 10 people (indoors) and 25 people (outdoors), with the proviso that physical distancing and other safety requirements are met. These new gathering limits also apply to wedding receptions as of October 13, 2020. Schools, childcare centres, and places of worship may remain open in these communities provided that they continue to follow the public health measures in place. Before-school and after-school programs will also be exempt from these new restrictions.

In all other regions of Ontario, the Stage 3 rules that were announced on July 13, 2020 are still in effect (see below).

July 13: Ontario Announces Plans for Advancing Most Regions to Stage 3

On July 13, 2020, the Government of Ontario announced that many of the province's health regions will proceed to Stage 3 of the reopening plan as of 12:01 a.m. on Friday, July 17. Because the Chief Medical Officer of Health requires at least four weeks of Stage 2 data to approve a region for advancing to Stage 3, a number of regions that were delayed in reaching Stage 2 will not move to Stage 3 at this time. These include a number of the most populous areas of Ontario:

  1. Durham
  2. Haldimand-Norfolk
  3. Halton
  4. Hamilton
  5. Lambton
  6. Niagara
  7. York
  8. Peel
  9. Toronto
  10. Windsor-Essex

The first seven regions in the list above may be approved to move to Stage 3 as early as July 24, with Peel and Toronto potentially following one week later. The final region to move to Stage 2, Windsor-Essex, is likely also to be the last to move to Stage 3, with possible further delays in the Essex County communities of Leamington and Kingsville.

All regions not listed above will be moving to Stage 3 on July 17.

According to the Minister of Finance, about 99% of businesses will be able to operate in Stage 3, provided that they are in compliance with physical distancing and other safety requirements. The reopening order allows for the remaining businesses to propose safe reopening plans that the Government, in consultation with health authorities, can approve within the scope of Stage 3. Businesses and commercial activities that are not approved for reopening in Stage 3 include:

  • Amusement parks and water parks;
  • Buffet-style food services;
  • Dancing at restaurants and bars (other than professional performers following specific requirements);
  • Overnight stays at children's camps;
  • Private karaoke rooms;
  • Sporting activities involving prolonged or deliberate contact;
  • Saunas, steam rooms, bathhouses and oxygen bars;
  • Table games at casinos and gaming establishments.

Businesses in categories that are not included in the general Stage 3 reopening can visit to submit their own reopening proposals.

Businesses generally will be subject to indoor and outdoor gathering limits, which will be increased in Stage 3 to 50 (indoor) and 100 (outdoor), with the proviso that physical distancing and other safety requirements are met. Childcare businesses will be able to operate with cohorts of 15 children, up from 10 currently.

June 22: Toronto and Peel Region Advance to Stage 2; Special Measures for Windsor-Essex Announced

On June 22, 2020, the Government of Ontario announced that as of June 24, the City of Toronto and the adjacent Region of Peel will become the 32nd and 33rd of the province's 34 public health regions to reach Stage 2 of the reopening process. At Stage 2, the following types of business activity may resume:

  • Outdoor dine-in services at restaurants, bars and other establishments;
  • Personal care services such as hair salons, barbershops and tattoo parlours;
  • Shopping malls (under existing restrictions, e.g. against sit-down service at restaurants);
  • Tour and guide services (bus and boat tours, winery tours, etc.);
  • Private campgrounds;
  • Outdoor recreational facilities;
  • Drive-in and drive-through theatres, concert venues, animal attractions etc.;
  • Film and TV production activities;
  • Weddings and funerals (with social gatherings limited to 10 people).

As of June 24, the only Public Health Region remaining at Stage 1 will be Windsor-Essex in the extreme southwest of the province, where the elevated incidence of COVID-19 among agricultural workers continues to be a priority for provincial, federal and local health authorities. The June 22 announcement includes new funding and other measures to increase testing and reduce transmission in Windsor-Essex. The Government of Ontario anticipates that all 34 regions will be at Stage 2 in the near future.

June 8: 24 of 34 Public Health Regions Advance to Stage 2

On June 8, 2020, Premier Doug Ford announced that, beginning Friday, June 12, the majority of Ontario's public health regions (24 of 34) will advance to Stage 2 of the reopening process. The exceptions are the regions that form the GTA (including the City of Toronto) as well as Hamilton, Niagara, Windsor and Haldimand-Norfolk. Other than Haldimand-Norfolk, these regions are among the most heavily populated in the province. The reason that they will remain at Stage 1 is that they continue to be more affected by COVID-19 than other regions.

The regions that are advancing to Stage 2 (which include Ottawa, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, Middlesex-London, Waterloo, Peterborough, Kingston, Simcoe-Muskoka and nearly all northern and rural districts) will see the reopening of the following:

  • Outdoor dine-in services at restaurants, bars and other establishments;
  • Personal care services such as hair salons, barbershops and tattoo parlours;
  • Shopping malls (under existing restrictions, e.g. against sit-down service at restaurants);
  • Tour and guide services (bus and boat tours, winery tours, etc.);
  • Private campgrounds;
  • Outdoor recreational facilities;
  • Drive-in and drive-through theatres, concert venues, animal attractions etc.
  • Film and TV production activities;
  • Weddings and funerals (with social gatherings limited to 10 people).

In all cases, businesses falling under these classifications will be required to ensure that health and safety measures applicable to them are complied with.

Until all regions have proceeded to Stage 2, the Government of Ontario will review the status of those regions that remain at Stage 1 at its Monday news conferences. Re-openings announced at those news conferences will normally be scheduled for the following Friday.

The Government plans to release details on the availability of services that support employment - such as childcare, summer camps and public transit - in the near future.

May 14: Additional Sectoral Re-openings Announced

At his May 14, 2020 media briefing, Premier Ford announced further re-openings around the upcoming Victoria Day long weekend.

Specifically, as of Saturday, May 16:

  • Golf courses, marinas and public boat launches can open to the public (with golf course clubhouses limited to washroom and take-out restaurant services only);
  • Private campgrounds and parks can open to prepare for the summer season and may also open to trailer and RV owners with full-season contracts; and
  • Stables and similar facilities can allow owners of animals that they board to visit, care for or ride their animals.

Immediately after the long weekend, as of Tuesday, May 19, the following additional openings will be permitted (provided that there is not been any change in the improving public health trends):

  • Non-mall retailers with their own street-front entrances, if they have appropriate physical distancing measures in place (e.g. limiting the number of customers in the store, etc.);
  • Construction sites (existing "essential workplace" limits to be lifted);
  • Seasonal businesses and recreational activities for individual or single competitors, including certain sports competitions, whether taking place indoors or outdoors (e.g. tennis, track and field and horse racing);
  • Animal services (e.g. veterinary appointments, pet care and grooming);
  • Household services, whether indoors or outdoors, that can follow public health guidelines (e.g. housekeeping, cleaning and maintenance); and
  • Certain non-COVID related medical services that meet certain conditions (e.g. scheduled surgeries and counselling).

The Government also announced the Workplace PPE Directory, a website designed to provide businesses with information on suppliers of personal protective equipment (PPE).

May 1: Certain Sectors to Re-open May 4, 2020

The Ontario government announced on May 1, 2020 that, as of Monday, May 4 at 12:01 a.m., several workplace types can get back to business, with some restrictions, provided that the pandemic-related health and safety guidelines relevant to those sectors are followed.

The sectors that can return to business are as follows (with restrictions as noted):

  • Garden centres and nurseries (curbside pickup and delivery only);
  • Lawn care and landscaping;
  • Construction projects involving any of the following (in addition to projects already permitted to proceed):
    • Shipping and logistics;
    • Broadband telecommunications and digital infrastructure;
    • Improvements to delivery of goods and services;
    • Municipal, college and university projects;
    • Schools and child-care centres;
    • Site prep, excavation and servicing for most types of development;
  • Car washes (automatic and self-serve);
  • Car dealerships (by appointment only);
  • Golf courses and marinas (preparation for the upcoming season only, as specified, with no public use or access permitted).

As noted above, these sectors are required to operate in accordance with health and safety standards and in particular are expected to follow the best practices guidance that is applicable to their sector. For example, the construction sector should follow the guidance issued in March and amended in April. The complete list of sector-specific guidance released to date is available here.

April 30: Government Releases Best Practices Guidelines for Four Key Sectors

The provincial government announced additional measures on April 30, 2020 that are aimed at promoting workplace health and safety in several key sectors. Specifically, these "best practices" guidelines apply to the manufacturing, food manufacturing/processing, restaurant/food service and agricultural sectors. They build on previously issued guidelines for the construction industry as well as recommendations developed for certain other workplaces in collaboration with industry-focused health and safety associations. Ontario is committing 58 additional workplace inspectors to the effort, who will focus primarily on communicating best practices to employers.

Overview of the guidelines

The Government of Ontario's general resources page for all sector-specific guidelines is here. As noted above, the sectors to which the April 30 announcement applies are the following:

The guidelines are arranged in a similar way for each sector, with dozens of specific recommendations listed under the following headings (among others):

  • Protecting yourself and your co-workers (e.g. by hand-washing and staying home when ill);
  • Physical distancing (e.g. by holding team meetings outdoors or installing plexiglass barriers);
  • Workplace sanitation (e.g. by providing hand sanitizer, improving ventilation and staggering work schedules);
  • Workplace tracking (e.g. by keeping records of where each worker has been in the workplace);
  • Reporting illness (e.g. by encouraging workers to do Ontario's online self-assessment);
  • Sharing information (e.g. by using up-to-date workplace posters re COVID-19 policies).

Depending on the industry sector, additional recommendations may also be made. For example, in the case of restaurants (and food manufacturers with associated retail operations), there is a recommendation against accepting reusable bags from customers and a recommendation that staff be assigned to monitor physical distancing by customers. In most respects, however, the recommendations are fairly similar for all sectors.

The government is also making a range of safety posters available for downloading (see an example here; others are available on the resource page).

Going forward

The best practices are recommendations and, as appropriate, will be incorporated into the advice that provincial labour inspectors may offer in the course of their on-site inspections. While the Government indicated that such inspections would at least initially be conducted primarily to help businesses understand how to comply, there will also be an enforcement element in cases where compliance efforts fall short.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.