'Why can people still gather in groups of five outdoors?': What you can and can't do in Ontario's stay-at-home order

Elisabetta Bianchini
·4 min read

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After Ontario announced a stay-at-home order, which was met with some confusion about what is really allowed and not allowed when it goes into effect on Thursday, the provincial government has now circulated answers to some outstanding questions.

“As we have from the very outset of this pandemic, we will continue to rely on the best judgment of Ontarians as they stay at home as much as possible and only leave their homes for essential purposes,” a statement from the premier’s office reads.

Is there a time limit for how long people can leave their homes or how many times they can leave their home?

There are no rules around how long someone can be outside their home or how many times a day someone can leave their home, but the provincial government is asking Ontarians to “use their best judgement” to limit their outings, including the number of retail stores they go to, as much as possible.

What is an essential trip?

The Ontario government has not explicitly defined what an “essential trip” is exactly, but stressed that the province, “cannot determine what is essential for every person in this province, each with their own unique circumstances and regional considerations.”

The “broad categories” of an essential trip that the provincial government says the public should consider before leaving their home includes, food, healthcare services (including medication), exercise, or work, where someone’s job cannot be done at home.

Exercise is considered an essential reason for leaving your home, which could include going for a walk or going to a local basketball court.

What is an essential item?

Using the same logic that defined as essential trip, the Ontario government also indicated it cannot specifically define an “essential item.”

“Legally defining what is essential risks cutting people off from goods that may legitimately be necessary for their health, well-being and safety,” the information states.

Why hasn’t the province defined who can or should work from home?

The stay-at-home order outlines that anyone in Ontario who can work from home must do so moving forward.

“The Government of Ontario cannot review tens of millions of job descriptions to determine who can work from home,” the information from the province reads. “As such, we are relying on the best judgment and common sense of employers to determine who can do so.”

“If an employee believes they should be working from home, they can contact the Ministry of Labour to file a health and safety complaint.”

Why is the province issuing a stay-at-home order while also permitting curb-side pickup?

The information from the premier’s office highlights that people in rural and remote areas of the province do not have easy access to online shopping or big-box stores, and the Ontario government determining what stores are essential, “risks cutting off many Ontarians who don’t live in Toronto or an urban centre from access to necessary goods.”

“We’ve learned a lot over the past year responding to this pandemic, including the fact that what may be essential to someone in Timmins and how they buy that item may not be essential to someone in downtown Toronto, who can easily buy items online for delivery,” the information reads.

Why can people still gather in groups of five outdoors?

On Tuesday, it was announced that a public health measure that would restrict outdoor organized public gatherings and social gatherings to a limit of five people. The province says this rule is “in recognition” of the fact that people who live alone need support of others.

These outdoor gatherings require everyone to follow physical distancing guidelines and the individuals are “strongly urged” to wear a mask.

Anyone who lives alone can join one other household, exclusively.

Can people travel to their cottages or secondary residences?

“In the spirit of the stay-at-home order, at this time we are not recommending intra-provincial travel,” information from the premier’s office reads.

Emergency maintenance of a secondary residence could include an “essential purpose” to leave someone’s primary home.

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