Ontario announced a state of emergency and additional stay-at-home orders to take effect on Jan. 14, following the reports of COVID-19 cases based on a new projection model. The new restrictions measures, however, have been criticized as uneven depending on the type of store.
The new restrictions remain unchanged for essential retailers such as grocery stores, convenience stores, pharmacies, and restaurants for takeout. Non-essential retailers are also allowed to operate between the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. under the new rules.
However, the restrictions have not changed for big-box stores like Walmart and Costco, which raises questions of crowding at these locations.
“In downtown Toronto, it is easy to get essential items online or big-box stores, but that is not the case for the vast majority of Ontario,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford in defence of the decision in a press conference on Jan. 13. “We need to make sure people can access … curbside pickup only. This is why we have allowed most retails to remain open.”
Ford noted the crowding problem and have promised to undertake an “inspection blitz” on certain big-box stores to ensure compliance with public health measures.
“I’ve seen the crazy lineups. We need more enforcement at these stores. So we’ll be starting an inspection blitz of big-box stores in the coming days,” Ford said on Jan. 12. “If we find any issues, there will be consequences. We will come down hard on these big-box stores if we have to.”
Harry Godfrey, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Labour confirmed to The Globe and Mail that the blitzes will occur at “strategic locations” and will target stores that are “in consultation with local public-health units.”
“As a retail business providing an essential service, Walmart is complying with government restrictions at all our stores, including in Ontario,” Adam Grachnik, the spokesperson for Walmart Canada, told The Globe and Mail on Jan. 12. He said staff members are using an app to count customers numbers at the entrance to ensure compliance with capacity limits.
Costco, on the other hand, have not yet given a public response to the new measures.
Other new measures for Ontario include further restrictions of outdoor public and social gatherings to a limit of five people. Masks or face covering are required in indoor areas where individuals cannot maintain the two-metres social distancing.