BARRIE, ONT. -- Premier Doug Ford announced a province-wide lockdown would begin at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 26, and last for at least 28 days

The lockdown would be much like what we experienced back in the spring, with only essential businesses remaining open, but this time around, the province decided schools would not fully close, opting instead to extend the winter break.

Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Charles Gardner, says shifting the region into lockdown could prove beneficial as local COVID-19 case numbers continue to climb.

"The pandemic is growing in Simcoe Muskoka," Gardner says. "People are at higher risk, and we have the potential for more hospital admissions, more very serious illness, potential for more outbreaks."

The region's top doc says his worry is with the outbreaks among the senior population. "In particular, I'm most concerned about those that happen in long-term care facilities because those people are just so vulnerable. They do represent the majority of people who die from COVID-19."

"Unfortunately, residents of long-term care and retirement homes have been the hardest hit by COVID-19, with one-quarter of cases succumbing to the illness," the health unit states.

Health officials have urged the public to avoid their usual holiday gatherings and opt instead for remaining within their households; however, surveys suggest most Ontarians plan to stick to their traditions.

Gardner hopes residents of Simcoe Muskoka will choose to follow the rules.

"It's crucial that we do all that we can to gain control of the pandemic to flatten the curve to start to bring our case count down. At this point in time, we're having trouble even slowing it down, here in Simcoe Muskoka," he says.

Still, Gardner admits regions further south that are in lockdown are reporting no change in case numbers. "Even those areas continue to rise though," he says.

The medical officer of health remains optimistic that a lockdown for the region would slow the virus. "Going into lockdown or Grey may help us in achieving that."

With the lockdown measures in place, Ford announced publicly-funded schools would remain closed for an extended winter break.

"I want to be clear, schools are not part of the problem of COVID in our communities. But out of an abundance of caution, school closures over the winter break will be extended," Ford said during the announcement Monday.

Elementary students will return one week later than scheduled on Jan. 11, while high school students will start remote learning on Jan. 11 and return to class on Jan. 25.

"Asking students and staff to stay home a little longer will help ensure we do what's needed to control the spread," Ford added.

The province-wide lockdown requires people to stay home to "the fullest extent possible" and limit trips outside the home.

Highlights of the lockdown include:

  • Child care centres would go back to being open for essential workers only
  • Restaurants, bars and other drink establishments can provide take out and delivery only
  • Discount and big-box retailers must limit capacity
  • Shopping malls must close for in-person shopping
  • Ski hills must close, however parks, ice rinks, snowmobile, cross-country snow-shoe trails may remain open
  • Cannabis shops may only offer curbside pickup or delivery, while liquor and beer stores must limit occupancy and can offer curbside pickup or delivery

Ford announced funding to help struggling businesses amid the lockdown.

"We will be launching the new Ontario small business support grant, which will provide a minimum of $10,000 and up to $20,000 to be eligible [to] small business owners to help them through this challenging time. That's up to $20,000 to help hundreds of thousands of businesses across the province, and they will decide where those funds are needed most," the premier said.

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