WINDSOR, ONT. -- Malls and most non-essential retail stores are set to close to in-person shopping in Windsor-Essex as part of a province-wide emergency and stay-at-home order.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the order Wednesday afternoon to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday at last for 28 days.

The province has also declared its third state of emergency.

“The Covid-19 situation is at a critical stage and we must act quickly and decisively to stay ahead of these deadly new variants,” said Ford.

The province is already under emergency brake shutdown orders that went into effect on Saturday.

The main difference is that starting Thursday non-essential retail outlets will be closed for in-person shopping.

Windsor-Essex medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed said the COVID-19 case count in the region isn’t as high as other parts of the province, but they are starting to climb. WECHU reported 41 new cases on Wednesday.

“If we just look at what today's numbers are then yes, someone could argue that this could be harsh for our region but with the trend, where we are heading, it could get worse,” says Ahmed.

Ahmed said from a bigger picture perspective a province-wide initiative is more effective than a patchwork of different restrictions and it prevents people from travelling to different regions that are more open.

The province is also strengthening public health and workplace safety measures for non-essential retail under the province-wide emergency brake.

The order received mixed feelings from Windsor-Essex residents.

“No one is paying attention,” Windsor resident Barbara Tintinalli says. “I don’t like the idea, but you do what you got to do. You stay home.”

“It’s unfortunate, the fact that we have to go through this again,” Bruce Millar of Harrow says. “I really geel for the small business people who have had to open their business, close their business.”

Ashley Innes, owner of Mina Peach Framing and Design, in south Windsor and says her kind of business works best if customers, even if it’s only one at a time, can wander and browse through her items.

She still plans to remain open for curbside pick-up though and says the new restrictions on big box retailers offers a tiny sliver of good news.

“Last time it wasn’t fair at all, that they were just able to sell anything that we have as well, the gift items and everything else, at least they’re doing that, this time, it softens it a little bit,” she says.

What does this mean for retail in the Windsor-Essex region?

  • Limiting the majority of non-essential retailers to only operate for curbside pick-up and delivery between the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 p.m., with delivery of goods to patrons permitted between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., and other restrictions;
  • Restricting access to shopping malls to limited specified purposes, including access for curbside pick-up and delivery, via appointment, with one single designated location inside the shopping mall, and any number of designated locations outside the shopping mall, along with other restrictions;
  • Restricting discount and big box stores in-person retail sales to groceries, household cleaning supplies, pharmacy items (pharmaceutical, health care and personal care items, and pet care supplies) only;
  • Permitting the following stores to operate for in-person retail by appointment only and subject to a 25 per cent capacity limit and restricting allowable hours of operation to 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.:
  • Safety supply stores; businesses that primarily sell, rent or repair assistive devices, aids or supplies, mobility devices, aids or supplies or medical devices, aids or supplies;
  • Rental and leasing services including automobile, commercial and light industrial machinery and equipment rental;
  • Optical stores that sell prescription eyewear to the public;
  • Businesses that sell motor vehicles, boats and other watercraft;
  • Vehicle and equipment repair and essential maintenance and vehicle and equipment rental services; and
  • Retail stores operated by a telecommunications provider or service, which may only permit members of the public to enter the premises to purchase a cellphone or for repairs or technical support.
  • Permitting outdoor garden centres and plant nurseries, and indoor greenhouses that engage in sales to the public, to operate with a 25 per cent capacity limit and a restriction on hours of operation.

What about schools?

Windsor-Essex schools will remain open with strict safety measures in place.

Dr. Ahmed said Tuesday he hopes the region will not reach the point where schools need to close for in-class learning. Other health units around the Toronto region have issued Section 22 orders to move to full remote learning.

Beginning during the April break, education workers who provide direct daily support to students with special education needs across the province, and all education workers in high-risk neighbourhoods in Toronto and Peel, will be eligible for vaccination. As vaccine supply allows, eligibility will expand to high risk neighbourhoods in other hot spot regions, including York, Ottawa, Hamilton, Halton and Durham, followed by a rollout across the province as supply allows.

“While our government took decisive action by implementing the province-wide emergency brake, more needs to be done to protect against the threats to our health system resources and the continued health and safety of individuals and families across the province,” said Christine Elliott, Minister of Health. “By further strengthening public health and workplace safety measures, we can work to reduce transmission of the virus while we work to rollout Phase 2 of our vaccine distribution plan, and put more needles in the arms of Ontarians.”

- With files from CTV Windsor's Alana Hadadean.