On Boxing Day, Ontario will enter a Provincewide Shutdown in an effort to slow COVID-19 transmission, Premier Doug Ford announced on Monday.

But despite the new measures that will prohibit social gatherings, indoor and outdoor dining at restaurants, and most circumstances of in-person shopping, pre-booked cottage and vacation-home rentals have been given the green light.

Any rentals that were organized prior to the lockdown's start-date are permitted to carry on as scheduled. However, new reservations will not be allowed through the lockdown, which will run for at least 28 days across southern Ontario starting on December 26.

(Northern Ontario will also enter lockdown on Boxing Day, but the measures will only be in place for an initial 14 days in the region.)

"Existing bookings before the day the region enters Shutdown will be honoured," says a spokesperson from the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Culture and Tourism Industries. "In the Provincewide Shutdown, short-term rentals are only permitted for those who are in need of housing."

READ: Province-Wide COVID Lockdown Begins Boxing Day

Officials say the restriction does not apply to hotels, motels, lodges, resorts and similar shared rental accommodations.

Screen shot 2020 12 21 at 2 Provincewide Shutdown Deck (Province of Ontario)

The announcement about the Provincewide Shutdown comes following Ford's emergency meeting with CEOs of Ontario hospitals, and amid growing calls from hospital officials for the implementation of stricter measures to curb the spread of the pandemic.

The Premier said Monday that COVID-19 is “accelerating at an alarming rate.” He also said he is “extremely alarmed” at reports of the new, more infectious strain of COVID-19 seen in the United Kingdom.

But not all those in the cottage rentals business agree with how things are being handled by the Premier.

"This doesn’t make sense to me, and I find it frustrating that there isn’t more clarity," said Maryrose Coleman of Muskoka District Rentals.

"It’s not helpful for residents to get a mixed message, 'you should stay home but if you have a reservation go ahead?' It simply doesn't make sense. I’m going to lose income because I’m going to be cancelling people's bookings, but in good conscience we can’t encourage people to be travelling right now."

Information for short-term rentals has often been vague and last-minute throughout the pandemic, according to Coleman.

The shutdown measures include, but are not limited to:

  • Restricting indoor organized public events and social gatherings, except with members of the same household (the people you live with). Individuals who live alone may consider having exclusive close contact with one other household.
  • Prohibiting in-person shopping in most retail settings - curbside pickup and delivery can continue. Discount and big box retailers selling groceries will be limited to 25 per cent capacity for in-store shopping. Supermarkets, grocery stores and similar stores that primarily sell food, as well as pharmacies, will continue to operate at 50 per cent capacity for in-store shopping.
  • Restricting indoor access to shopping malls - patrons may only go to a designated indoor pickup area (by appointment only), essential retail stores that are permitted to be open (e.g. pharmacy, grocery store), or, subject to physical distancing and face covering requirements, to the food court for takeout purchases. Shopping malls may also establish outdoor designated pickup areas.
  • Prohibiting indoor and outdoor dining. Restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments will be permitted to operate by take out, drive-through, and delivery only.

Ontarians have been advised by the Chief Medical Officer of Health to Ontarians to stay home as much as possible. Trips outside the home should be limited to necessities such as accessing food or medication, attending medical appointments, or supporting vulnerable community members.

With files from Ainsley Smith.