© Reuters. The theater remains closed due to coronavirus disease restrictions in Toronto
(Reuters) -Ontario will begin a four-week stay-at-home ordering on Thursday and close in-store shopping for non-essential retailers, Premier Doug Ford said on Wednesday as the Canadian province battles a spate of COVID-19 cases .
"The situation is extremely serious. We have to squat now," said Ford at a briefing in Toronto.
"What we do until we get mass immunization will mean the difference between life and death for thousands of people," he said.
The ordinance stipulates that people in Canada's most populous province must remain in their dormitories, except for essential reasons such as exercise, vaccination appointments, or food outings.
Last week, Ontario closed all indoor and outdoor restaurants, a move that did not meet the requirements of the government's expert advisory board to avoid catastrophically high COVID-19 cases.
Starting Thursday, all retailers except grocery stores, pharmacies and gardening goods sellers will close for four weeks, although roadside pick-up is permitted. Big box stores can remain open, but with capacity restrictions and only certain products, including groceries, pharmacies, and gardening supplies, that can be purchased in-store.
Industry groups had criticized Ford for allowing large box stores to remain open during previous closures while small businesses were closed.
Retailers, considered essential, can only open for in-store purchases by appointment. These include medical device delivery and repair shops, optical stores, and auto mechanics.
Canada reported 6,520 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned of a "very serious" third wave of the virus, with more young people going to hospitals and on ventilators powered by more dangerous variants of the virus.
Hospitals in Ontario are getting strained. Provincial data showed more COVID-19 patients in intensive care units than at any time since the pandemic began.
According to Ford, the shots in the intensive care unit rise faster than the worst-case scenario, which was modeled by experts.
Ontario plans to expand vaccination in areas with higher infection rates by setting up mobile clinics in community centers, workplaces, and other locations where residents over the age of 18 are vaccinated.
The province also announced that all teachers and education workers in Toronto and the Peel suburb will be able to be vaccinated from the April break in school districts and across the province for special education teachers.
On Tuesday, Toronto Public Health closed the city's schools for face-to-face learning and sent the country's largest school district with approximately 247,000 students back for distance learning by April 18.
Ford had told reporters hours earlier that schools were safe and closings were unnecessary.
According to the government, Ontario reported 3,215 new cases on Wednesday.