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Construction workers build a condominium tower while other businesses are shut due to coronavirus restrictions in Toronto on March 26, 2020.CHRIS HELGREN/Reuters

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the shutdown of most industrial construction sites and more non-essential businesses on Friday while pleading with Ontarians to stop gathering in groups, as health officials warned the COVID-19 epidemic was expected to kill 3,000 to 15,000 people in the province.

After the release of what he called stark and sobering figures, Mr. Ford cited the projection that 80,000 could get sick and 1,600 could die in April alone and urged the province’s residents to stop defying public-health orders in order to stop the novel coronavirus’s spread and save more lives.

“We all have to ask ourselves, what is the cost of a life? Is a life worth a picnic in a park? Is a life worth going to the beach? Is a life worth having a few cold ones with your buddies in the basement?" the Premier asked. "The answer is no.”

What is an ‘essential’ business?

As COVID-19 continues to spread, some provinces have used emergency powers to enforce physical distancing by closing “non-essential" businesses. Companies whose employees work from home, or who use digital storefronts, can continue to do so. But in many provinces, only services deemed essential will have physical locations open. These include:

  • Food and liquor: Grocery and convenience stores, restaurants (take out and delivery only). Pet-food stores included. Liquor stores are open on special hours.
  • Utilities: Energy, water, telecom and garbage-collection services will continue to run.
  • Shelters: Services will continue for homeless people and survivors of domestic violence.
  • Banks: Financial services are on every province’s essential list, but some banks may have reduced or changed hours at branches.
  • Government services: Health care and online higher education will continue, but public schools are closed.
  • Transportation: Public transit, taxis and postal delivery are running, as are transportation sectors needed for supply chains.

Read the full list of essential services in Ontario, Quebec, B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, PEI and Newfoundland and Labrador.

You can also read The Globe and Mail’s digest of the latest news about COVID-19′s spread around the world and sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter.

The numbers, released on Friday with Mr. Ford saying Ontarians needed to see the same data as he was allowed to see, consist of mathematical modelling of the projected deadly impact of the virus in Ontario, based on its progress in other countries. The projections suggest that without any of the public-health measures the province has enacted, such as school and workplace shutdowns, 100,000 Ontarians would have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

And with public-health officials saying deaths could be further minimized with stricter measures, Mr. Ford announced Friday that his government has further whittled down the list of essential workplaces in the province, shutting down construction for non-critical infrastructure projects for at least two weeks.

As of Saturday at 11:59 p.m. in Ontario, all industrial construction except critical infrastructure projects, such as hospitals and transit, must be halted, and no new residential construction will be allowed to begin, Mr. Ford said.

The Premier said he made the decision after seeing the latest data from health experts. “We have to make sure that we shut down every possible industrial, commercial site that we can ... to make sure that we protect as many front-line people as possible.”

But he said critical projects, including sewers, water infrastructure, hospitals and public transit, must continue, adding the province has hired 60 new inspectors to survey construction sites. He said 45,000 families have houses under construction, and can’t be left without a place to live.

Other changes include: closing cannabis stores and moving sales to online-only; making hardware stores, pet and animal supply stores, office supply stores and safety supply stores curbside pick-up and delivery only; further limiting veterinary services and research services.

Mr. Ford said the province has already shut down the “vast majority” of the economy, as well as schools until at least May 4. But he said “everything is on the table,” and he’ll continue to listen to the advice of health professionals.

“We have to make sure we have food on people’s tables. We do need certain areas to stay open,” he said.

Residential developments that were already under way, such as condos and large office complexes that include new condos or apartments, will be allowed to continue, as will other construction on what the province deems critical, including refineries and petrochemical plants and roads and bridges.

Gerard McCabe, managing director with Turner & Townsend, said his construction consultancy has about 100 projects under way in Ontario and estimates between 10 to 20 of them may be put on hold. That includes the renovation of the historic Massey Hall concert venue in Toronto.

He said it would take time for developers to secure construction sites. “You can’t just walk away from the project. All of those sites have to [be] made safe,” he said.

There are more than 2,000 construction sites across the province, the majority of which are in the Greater Toronto Area and include an unprecedented number of new condo and apartment units.

The Building Industry and Land Development Association, an industry group which represents 1,500 home builders and land developers in the GTA, applauded the narrow restrictions and said they will help stop the spread of COVID-19 and allow the completion of new homes.

Meanwhile, Ontario reported that, as of Thursday, there were 462 new cases of COVID-19 across the province, for a total of 3,255 with 67 deaths.

The release of Ontario’s modelling for death and infection projections came after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa would only offer similar national projections in the coming days, once it could provide “robust” modelling based on data received from the provinces. Mr. Ford has said this week that releasing his province’s projections could cause panic, but reversed his position on Thursday and promised to unveil the numbers.

Asked about Ontario’s projections earlier on Friday, Mr. Trudeau said he had seen the province’s numbers.

“We know that this is a very difficult situation for Canadians, there are some very challenging projections out there that will emphasize how important it is for all of us to do our part, to stay home,” Mr. Trudeau said.

With a report from Rachelle Younglai in Toronto

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