All of Ontario will go into lockdown on Boxing Day as the province tries to bring soaring COVID-19 cases under control.

The lockdown will remain in place for southern Ontario until Jan. 23, but will lift for northern Ontario on Jan. 9.

Premier Doug Ford said the virus is spreading rapidly from areas with a high number of cases to areas with fewer cases, and the province needs to preserve capacity in its health-care system.

“This difficult action is without a doubt necessary to save lives and prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed in the coming weeks,” he said.

“Make no mistake, thousands of lives are at stake right now.”

The lockdown means schools across the province will move to online learning from Jan. 4 to Jan. 8, after which students will return to in-person learning depending on their location and grade level.

Child-care centres across the province will remain open during the lockdown.

The measures also mean all non-essential businesses must close, and essential businesses that remain open will have strict capacity limits in place.

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

The lockdown also means Ontarians are advised to stay home “to the fullest extent possible.” 

Here are some of the measures that will be in place:

STORES AND RESTAURANTS:

• Restaurants can only provide take out, drive through, and delivery, including the sale of alcohol.

• Supermarkets, convenience stores, indoor farmer’s markets and other stores that primarily sell food may stay open for in-person shopping with physical distancing and a 50 per cent capacity limit.

• Pharmacies are open for in-person sales with physical distancing and a 50 per cent capacity limit.

• Discount and big box retailers that sell groceries may remain open if the store does not exceed 25 per cent capacity of rooms open to the public.

• Shopping malls must close for in-person retail, with the public only allowed to enter if it’s to access businesses and organizations permitted to be open (e.g., pharmacy, dentist).

• Liquor stores can may open if the store does not exceed 25 per cent capacity of rooms open to the public.

SCHOOLS AND CHILD-CARE:

• Children at publicly-funded elementary and secondary schools will participate in remote learning from Jan. 4 to Jan. 8.

• In northern Ontario publicly funded and private schools will be permitted to resume in-person instruction on Jan. 11.

• Elementary schools in southern Ontario will reopen on Jan. 11. Secondary school students in southern Ontario will continue remote learning until Jan. 25.

• Child-care centres will remain open for the duration of the provincewide shutdown period. However, during the period where elementary schools are operating virtually, licensed child care centres will be prohibited from serving school-aged children.

GATHERINGS:

• No indoor social gatherings, except with members of the same household (the people you live with). Individuals who live alone and single parents may consider having exclusive, close contact with another household to help reduce the negative impacts of social isolation.

• Weddings, funerals and other religious rites, ceremonies and services can go ahead with a maximum of 10 people — indoors or outdoors — and only with physical distancing in place.

• The province advises Ontarians to stay home “to the fullest extent possible.”

SPORTS AND RECREATION:

• Indoor recreation facilities must close, including indoor courts, pools and rinks.

• Indoor sports must stop, except for “high performance” and professional leagues such as the NHL or MLS.

• Community centres can open only for permitted services such as child care.

• Casinos, bingo halls and gaming establishments must close.

• Cinemas (with the exception of drive-in theatres) must close.

• Zoos and aquariums must close to the public.

• Museums and cultural amenities must close.

PERSONAL CARE:

• Personal care services such as hair salons and spas must close.

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The announcement of the sweeping lockdown came hours after new projections indicated that Ontario’s ability to control the spread of COVID-19 was “precarious.”

The data by the province’s health advisors concluded that tough lockdowns lasting a month or more could cut the number of daily cases to less than 1,000.

Ontario reported 2,123 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and 17 more deaths related to the virus.

Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the province’s COVID-19 science advisory table, said anything less than a four-week lockdown will not work, based on the experience of other jurisdictions.

“Hard lockdown, a very stringent lockdown, with very strong communication, of four to six weeks can reduce case numbers in Ontario,” he said. “The duration of lockdown is very important.″”

Brown said that if Ontario’s COVID-19 case rate continues to grow between one to three per cent, the province will have 3,000 to 5,000 daily cases by the end of January.

If the province sees “substantial growth” of seven per cent, Ontario will have 30,000 daily cases.

The new projections show that under all scenarios the province will see 300 intensive care unit beds filled within 10 days — double the 150-bed threshold where surgeries must be cancelled.

Under a worst-case-scenario, ICU occupancy could hit 1,500 beds by mid-January.

The data also shows that deaths due to COVID-19 will continue to increase, especially in long-term care where there have been 633 resident deaths since Sept. 1, and 100 over the past week.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 21, 2020.