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More Ontario businesses, some construction sites will close amid COVID-19 pandemic
TORONTO -- The Ontario government will be closing additional workplaces over the weekend and will be shutting down all non-critical industrial construction sites as the province works to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Speaking alongside Health Minister Christine Elliott, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and Finance Minister Rod Phillips at Queen’s Park on Friday, Premier Doug Ford said the province is acting quickly in order to prevent further deaths due to the virus.
“We are announcing the closure of many more sectors of the economy and I can tell you this was no easy task. I know that businesses are struggling to stay afloat through these rough waters but lives are on the line and we must take this action now.”
Ford added that necessary infrastructure projects like hospitals and transportation will continue, as well residential construction that has already begun.
The closures will be in effect as of 11:59 p.m. on Saturday and will remain for at least the next 14 days.
The announcement was made about an hour after provincial officials released modelling that forecasts anywhere between 3,000 and 15,000 COVID-19 deaths in Ontario with the public health measures in place now.
With the current physical distancing measures in place, officials said about 1,600 people may die from the virus by April 30.
“The numbers clearly show that we have collectively saved thousands of lives. You have saved thousands of lives,” Ford said. “But we also know that we can’t stop now. There are 1,600 people out there that need us to do everything we can in the next 30 days to help save them.”
The list of business categories considered essential in the province has been reduced from 74 to 44, and includes food, pharmacy, manufacturing and transportation services.
Cannabis retail stores, which were previously included in the list, have been removed while The Beer Store and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario will remain open.
Construction related to critical projects, such as provincial infrastructure, transit, energy, or day-to-day maintenance is expected to continue, as is any construction site associated with the healthcare sector.
Residential construction projects whose operations started before April 4 will also be permitted to continue.
Ford told reporters that all construction sites will be under the “highest scrutiny possible” and that 60 inspectors have been added to ensure health and safety protocols are being followed.
“We have hundreds of inspectors out every day. Over the last week we’ve conducted 583 inspections and shut down five construction sites and we will not hesitate to shut down more.”
When asked about why so many businesses are still included in the list of essential services, the premier said that it was imperative that Ontario’s supply chain remain operational in order to prevent “anarchy.”
Richard Lyall, president of Residential Construction Council of Ontario, said that times have been tough for the industry but that it is critical workers continue to build homes.
“We’ve got thousands of houses, affordable housing units, and condos that have to be completed,” he said. “We need the housing and we can’t really leave these units unfinished.”
He also said that he respects the province’s commitment to inspections and safety protocols.
“The industry is taking it seriously.”
'Please stay home,' minister says
Provincial officials continued to urge residents to stay home and practice physical distancing when outdoors. Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said the forecasted COVID-19 numbers released on Friday were “sobering.”
"Please stay home," Elliot implored. "The consequences of failing to heed this simple advice are clear. If you don't join us in this battle, our health care system will be overwhelmed."
Ford added that while the vast majority of Ontarians are following the social distancing rules, he is still receiving reports of people gathering at beaches and parks.
“Please, this weekend, it will be nice outside, I know it’s hard to do. …but please stay home,” he said. “Help us write an ending to our story that we can look back on.”