stay at home order ontario

Here's what you're still allowed to do under Ontario's new stay-at-home order

With a mandatory stay-at-home order set to come into effect at midnight this evening across Ontario, millions of people are scrambling to figure what, exactly, they can and cannot do under the new rules — and through no fault of their own.

Doug Ford's provincial government hasn't exactly made things clear, except to say on Tuesday that nobody should leave their home for "non-essential" reasons beginning at 12:01 a.m. on January 14 for a period of 28 days.

Retail hours are reduced for non-essential stores, which have already been closed to the public in Toronto for nearly two months,  while gathering limits have been lowered to a maximum of five people outdoors — all of whom would need "essential" reasons to see each other, based on what was announced yesterday.

So... what's essential? Which of the government's new rules are merely "guidelines" meant to slow the spread of COVID-19, and which are laws that could land us up in prison for up to one year if we break them?

Ford's attempt to clear this up on Wednesday morning via Twitter, less than 24-hours before the new stay-at-home order was set to take effect, only added to the cacophony of confusion.

It would appear as though 280 characters just isn't enough to answer all of the questions people have — hence the release of a more comprehensive FAQ document from the Premier's Office.

"Following yesterday's announcement, I am providing the below summary of frequently asked questions," wrote Ford's Executive Director of Communications, Travis Kann, in an emailed statement on Wednesday.

"As you'll see, a common theme is recognizing government’s inability to implement a single set of restrictions that are perfectly responsive to the unique circumstances of every single Ontarian."

Kann points out, rightfully so, that it's hard to regulate a province as large and diverse as Ontario.

"How someone in downtown Toronto adheres to the stay-at-home order, where there is easy and immediate access to online shopping or a big-box retailer, will look very different than someone in a rural or remote area who relies on smaller, independent retailers, many of which are limited to curb-side pickup or delivery," reads the statement.

"As such, and 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."

Still confused? Here's the full FAQ, courtesy of the Premier's Office:

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

This question assumes every single person in Ontario has easy access to online shopping or that there is a big-box retailer in their community. This isn't the case for many Ontarians who live in rural and remote areas.

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 Government of Ontario determining what retailers may be considered essential risks cutting off many Ontarians who don’t live in Toronto or an urban centre from access to necessary goods.

What is an essential item?

The Government of Ontario cannot determine what is essential for every person in this province, each with their own unique circumstances and regional considerations. Legally defining what is essential risks cutting people off from goods that may legitimately be necessary for their health, well-being and safety.

What is an essential trip?

The Government of Ontario cannot determine what is essential for every person in this province, each with their own unique circumstances and regional considerations. That said, we have provided broad categories that people should consider before leaving their home: food, healthcare services including medication, exercise, or work, where someone’s job cannot be done at home.

What is essential work?

The stay-at-home order does not define what work or jobs are essential. Rather, it now mandates that anyone who can work from home must now do so. For example, someone working in retail obviously can’t do their job from home and would be permitted to go to work.

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

The Government of Ontario cannot review tens of millions of job descriptions to determine who can work from home. 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 can people still gather in groups of five outdoors?

 The outdoor gathering limit of five is in recognition of the fact that some people live alone and may require the company or support of others for their mental and physical well-being. Anyone gathering outside is expected to adhere to physical distancing measures and are now strongly urged to wear a mask.

Can people leave home to exercise? Can I go to my local playground or basketball court?

Yes, exercise is considered an essential reason for leaving your home. What that means will be unique to each individual Ontarian: some may wish to go for a walk around the block, while others may wish to go to a local basketball court with their household to shoot some hoops.

We recommend that Ontarians consult their local public health unit or municipality to understand what recreational amenities are open in their community.

Can someone living alone still join up with another household?

Yes, they can exclusively join one other household. This is to support their mental health and well-being, as well as to ensure those requiring support continue to have access to essential caregivers.

Is there a time limit for how long people can leave their homes?

No. That said, we're asking Ontarians to use their best judgement when leaving their home for essential reasons. They should limit the number of stores they go to and spend as little time outside of their home as possible.

Is there a limit on the number of times someone can leave their home in a day?

No. That said, we're asking Ontarians to use their best judgement when leaving their home for essential reasons. They should limit the number of stores they go to and spend as little time outside of their home as possible.

Can people travel to their cottages or secondary residences?

 Right now, we are asking people to stay home and only leave their home for essential purposes, which could include emergency maintenance of a secondary residence. In the spirit of the stay-at-home order, at this time we are not recommending intra-provincial travel.

Still, still confused? The province is expected to announce "legal parameters" pertaining to the stay-at-home order later today. Hopefully, those will be crystal.

Lead photo by

A Great Capture


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