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What Ford’s New COVID Measures Mean for the Ontario Construction Industry

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As Ontario grapples with surging daily case numbers that are now threatening to swamp hospitals, Premier Ford announced new public-health measures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, which includes new restrictions to the construction industry.

During a news conference at Queen’s Park on Tuesday, Premier Ford said the province is issuing a stay-at-home order in addition to declaring the second provincial state of emergency and revealed enhanced enforcement measures to reduce mobility and slow the spread of COVID-19.

Premier Ford said the state of emergency will be in effect for at least 28 days.

“The latest modelling data shows that Ontario is in a crisis and, with the current trends, our hospital ICUs will be overwhelmed in a few short weeks with unthinkable consequences,” said Premier Ford.

“That’s why we are taking urgent and decisive action, which includes declaring a provincial emergency and imposing a stay-at-home-order. We need people to only go out only for essential trips to pick up groceries or go to medical appointments. By doing the right thing and staying home, you can stay safe and save lives.”

READ: Ontario COVID-19 Deaths Could Exceed First Wave if Contacts Aren’t Reduced

Effective Thursday, January 14, at 12:01 am, the government is issuing a stay-at-home order requiring everyone to remain at home with exceptions for essential purposes, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services, for exercise or for essential work.

The government says this order and other new and existing public health restrictions are aimed at limiting people’s mobility and reducing the number of daily contacts with those outside an immediate household. In addition to limiting outings to essential trips, all businesses must ensure that any employee who can work from home, does work from home.

The province has also announced new restrictions for the construction industry.

According to the province, all non-essential construction is further restricted, including below-grade construction. However, exempt from this is construction surveying.

As confirmed by the office of the premier, the Ontario government has updated the list of construction projects deemed essential, and that list includes:

  • Construction projects and services associated with the healthcare sector and long-term care, including new facilities, expansions, renovations and conversion of spaces that could be repurposed for health care space.
  • Construction projects and services required to ensure safe and reliable operations of, or to provide new capacity in, provincial infrastructure, including transit, transportation, energy, mining and justice sectors beyond the day-to-day maintenance.
  • Construction projects and services that support the operations of, and provide new capacity in schools, colleges, universities, municipal infrastructure and child care centres within the meaning of the Child Care and Early Years Act, 2014.
  • Construction projects under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program
  • Construction projects and services that support the operations of Broadband internet and cellular technologies and services.
  • Critical industrial construction activities required for,
    • the maintenance and operations of petrochemical plants and refineries,
    • significant industrial petrochemical projects where preliminary work has already commenced,
    • industrial construction and modifications to existing industrial structures limited solely to work necessary for the production, maintenance, and/or enhancement of Personal Protective Equipment, medical devices (such as ventilators), and other identified products directly related to combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Construction projects that are due to be completed before July 2021 and that would provide additional capacity in the production, processing, manufacturing or distribution of food, beverages or agricultural products.
  • Construction projects that were commenced before January 12, 2021 and that would provide additional capacity for businesses that provide logistical support, distribution services, warehousing, storage or shipping and delivery services, or provide additional capacity in the operation and delivery of Information Technology (IT) services or telecommunications services.
  • Residential construction projects where:
    • a footing permit has been granted for single-family, semi-detached and townhomes
    • the project is a condominium, mixed-use or other residential building, or
    • the project involves renovations to residential properties and construction work was started before January 12, 2021.
  • Construction to prepare a site for an institutional, commercial, industrial or residential development, including any necessary excavation, grading, roads or utilities infrastructure.
  • Construction and maintenance activities necessary to temporarily close construction sites that have paused or are not active and to ensure ongoing public safety.
  • Below-grade multi-unit residential construction projects, such as apartments and condominiums. The Ontario government also provided that businesses must follow public health measures and should review the workplace safety guidelines.
  • Construction on any project intended to provide either,
    • affordable housing, or
    • shelter or supports for vulnerable persons,
  • If the project is being funded in whole or in part by, or is being undertaken by, any of the following:
  1. the Crown in right of Canada or in right of Ontario,
  2. an agency of the Crown in right of Canada or in right of Ontario,
  3. a municipality,
  4. a service manager as defined in the Housing Services Act, 2011, or
  5. a registered charity and not for profit within the meaning of the Income Tax Act(Canada)

The Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) and the Ontario Home Builders’ Association (OHBA) said they believe the new COVID-19 restrictions are necessary and they will return the construction industry to operating requirements similar to those in place in April 2020.

“The government of Ontario continues to show confidence in the construction industry to operate in a safe environment with the utmost respect for measures to stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Dave Wilkes, President & CEO, BILD.

“Our industry and our association will take all necessary steps to make sure that COVID-19 health and safety protocols are maintained at the highest possible levels. We will continue to work with members to remind them of the immense responsibility that comes with Essential Workplace designation under the Emergency Orders.”

Joe Vaccaro, CEO of OHBA says with these new restrictions, the Ontario government continues to make public safety the priority.

“Our industry has a strong record of implementing enhanced protocols under COVID-19,” said Vaccaro, adding, “while the new restrictions will slow the delivery of new housing for some projects, case levels have gotten to the point that all sectors and residents must be part of the solution.”

“Our members look forward to a time when they can resume full and normal construction levels and continue to serve the residential construction needs of all Ontarians.”

The government will also be enacting the following additional public health measures:

  • Outdoor organized public gatherings and social gatherings are further restricted to a limit of five people with limited exceptions. This is consistent with the rules during the lockdown during the first wave of COVID-19 in spring 2020 and will allow individuals and families to enjoy time outdoors safely.
  • Individuals are required to wear a mask or face-covering in the indoor areas of businesses or organizations that are open. Wearing a mask or face covering is now recommended outdoors when you can’t physically distance more than two metres.
  • All non-essential retail stores, including hardware stores, alcohol retailers, and those offering curbside pickup or delivery, must open no earlier than 7 am and close no later than 8 pm. The restricted hours of operation do not apply to stores that primarily sell food, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores, and restaurants for takeout or delivery.

What’s more, the province said students will not return to in-person learning in COVID-19 hotspots, including Toronto, Peel, York, Hamilton, and Windsor until February 10.

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