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Ontario and Quebec ordering non-essential businesses to close

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford is ordering the closure of all non-essential businesses in Ontario to help deal with the spread of COVID-19.

He says the order will be effective Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. and will be in place for at least 14 days.

Ford says the next 36 hours will give non-essential businesses the chance to prepare.

He says he will release the list of businesses Tuesday that will be allowed to stay open, but food will remain on the grocery store shelves and people will still have access to medication.

The premier says it was a tough decision, but now is not the time for half measures.

Ontario reported 78 new COVID-19 cases today, bringing the provincial total to 503.

It’s the largest increase in a day so far. The total includes six deaths and eight cases that have fully resolved.

At least six of the new cases are hospitalized, including a woman in her 30s, a man in his 40s, two people in their 50s and two people in their 70s.

Ford also announced that Ontario is providing a $200-million funding boost for social services, including shelters, food banks, emergency services, charities and non-profits.

Money is set to go to municipalities and social service agencies, and will help those organizations hire additional staff and operate using social distancing.

“Organizations across the province are doing critical work right now to help vulnerable Ontarians and these funds will allow them to directly help those who need it most,” Ford said in a statement.

The funding will also go toward an expanded emergency assistance program for people on welfare to help cover food, rent, informal childcare arrangements and other services.

Ontario has also enhanced its COVID-19 self-assessment tool, making it interactive and allowing the province to gather data from it.

The new tool takes users through a series of questions about their symptoms and will help them determine if they are likely to have COVID-19 and what to do.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a statement that the tool will give the province real-time data on the number of people who are told to seek care, self-isolate or monitor for symptoms, as well as where in the province they live.

People calling Telehealth Ontario have reported long waits, but Elliott said the service now has more than 2,000 lines running, up from about 400 before the pandemic.

The government also says Ontario has 58 dedicated COVID-19 assessment centres running, well up from the 38 Ford said were open just a few days ago.

Since Sunday, more than 1,950 people received negative test results, while more than 8,000 people are still awaiting their results.

Elliott reminded Ontarians to practise social distancing, meaning staying at least two metres away from anyone outside your immediate family, and for anyone who has travelled to stay at home and self-isolate.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault also hit the “pause” button on his province’s economy on Monday, ordering all non-essential businesses to close until April 13 as the number of COVID-19 cases more than doubled to 628.

Legault said the businesses will be ordered to close no later than midnight Tuesday, adding that grocery stores and pharmacies will be among those allowed to remain open.

“Effectively, Quebec will be on pause for the next three weeks,” he said.

“It’s important, in order to give us all the chances to reduce the spread of the virus, to take this decision, which is difficult, but in my opinion necessary.”

The number of COVID-19 cases in Quebec jumped by 409 since Sunday, with 45 people hospitalized – 20 of them in intensive care.

Legault noted that the province is now grouping probable and confirmed cases, which accounts in part for the major increase.

Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s public health director, said the increase in positive cases was expected, given the massive increase in testing in recent days.

The province’s earlier March break and close ties to hard-hit nations such as Italy are also factors, he said.

But while many or most cases remain linked to travel, he noted the province is also beginning to see community transmission.

“When we told you no weddings, no funerals, it’s not because we don’t find them important,” he said. “It’s because there are situations where people who don’t know they’re sick, but are sick, can contaminate others.”

He called on Quebecers to stay home and avoid all travel, including within the province.

There have been four deaths in the province, all linked to the same seniors residence.

Legault announced that from now on, seniors home residents are asked to not to leave without supervision, citing the potentially “disastrous” consequences of the virus running rampant within a group that is statistically the most at risk of complications.

However, he stressed that Quebecers of all ages are to consider themselves essentially locked down.

“What we’re saying is confinement, except for essential services,” he said. “We’re at that point.”

He said the measures do not apply to police, firefighters, health-care workers, grocery store employees, journalists or anyone who can do their jobs completely from home.

The full list of businesses and services that are allowed to remain open was published late Monday. It includes teachers working online, infrastructure maintenance, sanitation, manufacturers of food and medical supplies, hotels, movers, restaurants offering takeout only, banking and public transportation.

The provincially run alcohol and cannabis stores can also stay open.

But constructions sites and aluminum smelters will have to close, he said.

Most people diagnosed with COVID-19 experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the majority of those who contract the virus recover. Some may have few, if any symptoms, or may not know they’re infected because symptoms of the novel coronavirus are similar to a cold or flu.

However, for some, including Canadians aged 65 and over, those with compromised immune systems and those with pre-existing conditions, the illness can be much more severe. Among the Canadians diagnosed with the illness so far, 10 per cent have required hospitalization, with fewer than five per cent of cases requiring admission to the ICU.