This report was published in December 2020.

Ontario will go into a strict province-wide lockdown on Dec. 26, forcing nearly all non-essential businesses to close.

The lockdown will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 26 and will last until Jan. 23 for all regions in southern Ontario, the government has announced. The health units not in southern Ontario will remain in lockdown until Jan. 9.

The lockdown was originally set to begin on Dec. 24 but was pushed back two days by cabinet on Monday.

The province-wide lockdown will look similar to the shutdown back in March, with only essential businesses being allowed to remain open.

During the lockdown, no indoor public events or social gatherings will be allowed, except with members of the same household.

"This difficult action is without a doubt necessary to save lives and prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed in the coming weeks," Premier Doug Ford said Monday. "Make no mistake, thousands of lives are at stake right now. If we fail to action now, the consequences could be catastrophic."

"The hard truth is that it's not going anywhere until we are able to vaccinate more Ontarians."

Schools to close for in-person learning after winter break

Publicly funded elementary and secondary schools in the province will close for in-person learning until at least Jan. 11.

All publicly-funded schools in northern public health regions are allowed to resume in-person learning on Jan. 11.

Elementary schools in southern Ontario can also resume in-person learning on Jan. 11, but secondary schools students in southern Ontario won't be allowed to return to the classroom until Jan. 25. 

Child care centres will remain open for the duration of the lockdown, the government said. An earlier version of this story said that child care centres will only be open to essential workers but the premier's office has now confirmed that is not the case.

Under the lockdown orders, bars and restaurants may only remain open for takeout. 

Shopping malls will be closed for in-person retail, with members of the public only permitted to access the facilities for essential services. Hardware stores and pet stores can only remain open for curbside pickup. 

Personal care services, casinos, zoos, and museums are among some of the other businesses that will be forced to close. Libraries are allowed to remain open for curbside pickup.

Ski hills in Ontario will not be allowed to operate during the lockdown.

The government is also asking that people do not leave home unless it is for an essential reason and only travel outside their own region if absolutely necessary. 

Anyone who travels within Canada during the province-wide shutdown is being asked to self-isolate upon their return to Ontario. 

Toronto, Peel Region, York Region and Windsor-Essex are already under lockdown. Hamilton joined the grey zone of the province's tiered COVID-19 framework on Monday.

Mayor John Tory thanked Ford on Monday afternoon for ordering the province-wide lockdown, saying it is needed to protect the health of residents.

"This kind of strong stand against the virus is needed to save lives and to protect the health of each and every one of the residents of our city and of our province," Tory said. "I support Premier Ford's decision and I thank him and his cabinet and his caucus for making the difficult but absolutely necessary decision that they made today."

Meanwhile, new modelling released on Monday forecasts an increase in COVID-19-related deaths heading into the new year, while the number of patients with the disease in intensive care units in the province is expected to surpass the 300-bed benchmark within the next 10 days.

Officials said that regardless of the scenario, occupancy in Ontario's ICUs will be above 300 by the new year. In the worst-case scenario, COVID-19 patient occupancy could surpass 1,500 by mid-January.

The government has previously said that when more than 300 COVID-19 patients are in the ICU, medical care not related to the disease becomes nearly impossible to handle.