Ontario declared a state of emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic 3 years ago today. Here’s a look back

To shared

It’s now been three years since Ontario declared a state of emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic. Back on March 17, 2020, it was thought that restrictions to “flatten the curve” would last for just a few weeks, an extended March Break.

Little did most people realize then that the pandemic would lead to on and off restrictions for more than two years, leave thousands dead and rock daily life to its core for millions of people in the province and around the world.

While Ontario saw a relative return to normal for much of 2022 and so far this year, society is continuing to grapple with the effects of the pandemic, from remote work, to supply shortages to massive municipal revenue losses.

And while the virus itself is no longer threatening to overwhelm hospitals, it remains a real health threat for many people.

“COVID is still here. It absolutely is. It is has not gone away,” Infectious Diseases Specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch told CP24 in a conversation about the three-year anniversary Thursday. “And COVID continues to disproportionately impact older Canadians and Canadians that have underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk for more severe infection.”

Bogoch said the vaccination campaign “got much more complicated after second doses” and there remain communities that are under-vaccinated.

In general, he said people over 60 or those with underlying medical conditions should get a shot if they haven’t had one in the past six months.

“It’s just important to be up to date on your vaccinations because if you look at, for example, who gets hospitalized, who gets sick, who succumbs to this illness? Sadly, it is mostly older Canadians and those with underlying medical conditions,” Bogoch said.

While the virus hasn’t gone anywhere, Ontario has come a long way since declaring an emergency because of the pandemic when it first emerged. Here’s a look back at some of the major milestones of the past three years.


Jan. 25, 2020: A Toronto man in his 50s who returned from the Chinese city of becomes the first presumptive case of the novel coronavirus in Canada. He is placed in isolation at Sunnybrook Hospital. Days later his wife is declared the second case.

Feb. 7, 2020: A plane carrying more than 200 Canadians from Wuhan arrives at CFB Trenton in eastern Ontario, where they start a 14-day quarantine.

March 11, 2020: A Utah Jazz player tests positive two days after a game against the Toronto Raptors, prompting the NBA to suspend its season. Canada has more than 100 recorded cases at this point.

March 12, 2020: The province announces that all publicly funded schools in Ontario will be closed for two weeks following March Break in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

March 17, 2020: Ontario declares a states of emergency. Premier Doug Ford says “we are facing an unprecedented time in our history” as he announces that the province is ordering the closure of schools, recreational programs, theatres, bars and restaurants, child care centres. Gatherings of 50 or more people are also banned. 

Toronto, normally lively and jubilant for annual St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, grinds to an eerie halt.

March 18, 2020: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces that Canada and the U.S. have agreed to temporarily restrict all non-essential travel across the border.

March 30, 2020: Ontario orders the closure of all communal or shared, public or private, outdoor recreational amenities everywhere in the province. The province also extends the Declaration of Emergency and all associated emergency measures, including the closure of non-essential businesses. 

March 31, 2020: The province announces that Ontario schools will remain closed until at least May. The city also cancels all major gatherings and events in Toronto through June, including the annual Pride Parade.

April 2, 2020: Toronto residents who do not live together are ordered to stay two metres apart in public parks and squares under a new bylaw signed by the city’s mayor.

April 3, 2020: A shocking projection says Ontario could see as many as 15,000 deaths from COVID-19 over two years, even if strict measures are implemented. Taking no measures at all, the model estimated, Ontario could see 100,000 deaths.

The province extends the list of non-essential businesses that must now close, including non-critical industrial construction projects.

April 22, 2020: Ontario and Quebec call in the military to help out in overwhelmed long-term care homes.

May 11, 2020: Some Ontario stores start offering curbside pickup

May 19, 2020: Many stores reopen in Ontario

May 23, 2020: Thousands pack Trinity-Bellwoods Park a sunny day in Toronto, sparking fears about transmission.

The city eventually paints distancing circles on the grass.

May 26, 2020: A report from the military helping battle COVID-19 in five long-term care facilities in Ontario reveals extreme neglect and exposes the extent of the horrific conditions facing residents.

June 1, 2020: Widespread protests over the death of George Floyd in the U.S. spark concerns about possible transmission at protests, which are mostly held outside.

June 12, 2020: Ontario enters Stage 2 of its reopening, except for Toronto, Windsor-Essex and Peel region.

Aug. 21, 2020: Premier Doug Ford announces an agreement with 3M to produce up to 100 million medical-grade N95 masks a year at its plant in Brockville, Ont.

Sept. 25, 2020: Ontario re-imposes tougher lockdown restriction amid a surge in cases. Bars and restaurants are told to close by 11 p.m.

Dec. 10, 2020: Premier Doug Ford’s office says that after doing daily news conferences Monday to Friday since March to provide updates on the pandemic response, Ford will stop the daily updates.

Dec. 14, 2020: Less than a year after the pandemic is declared, a personal support worker in Toronto becomes the first person in Ontario to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot. Health care workers are the first to become eligible and the jab kicks off the long process of getting doses into the arms of most Ontarians.

Dec. 26, 2020: Ontario goes into province-wide lockdown again right after Christmas in order to curb another wave of the virus. All but essential businesses have to shut down.


Jan. 12, 2021: Ontario implements another state of emergency and stay-at-home order to combat COVID-19

Jan 13, 2021: A pilot mass vaccination centre opens at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. However it closes just five days later due to a lack of vaccine stock.

Feb. 3, 2021: The province announces that in-person learning will resume at schools in most of Ontario in the coming weeks. Toronto’s medical officer of health says there ‘is no perfect answer’ it should be safe to do so.

Sept. 1, 2021: Ontario implements a vaccine passport system that requires people to show proof of vaccination in a range of settings, from gyms to movie theatres to restaurants.

Oct. 22, 2021: The Ontario government unveils a plan to lift all remaining public health restrictions by March.

Dec. 2, 2021: After nearly a year of trying to book appointments and waiting in long lines at popup vaccination sites, 90 per cent of Ontario residents 12 and over have received at least one dose of a vaccine, while 87 per cent have received their second.


Jan. 20, 2022: Ontario says it will allow restaurants, gyms, cinemas and other indoor settings to reopen at 50 per cent capacity as of Jan. 31 as part of a wider plan to gradually lift most COVID-19 restrictions by mid-March.

March 9, 2022: The Ontario government unveils its timeline for lifting all remaining COVID-19 restrictions and policies, with all restrictions set to end by the end of April.

March 10, 2022: After leading Toronto’s COVID-19 strategic response team for two years, Chief Matthew Pegg says he’ll return to his main function as the city’s fire chief.

May 9, 2022: Mayor John Tory formally ends a municipal state of emergency which had been in effect for a total of 777 days because of the pandemic.

Nov. 14 2022: Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore strongly recommends people continue to use a mask in indoor settings as hospitals are overwhelmed by a so-called triple threat of COVID-19, RSV and flu infections, particularly affecting children.

Moore takes heat when he is spotted maskless at a Toronto Life party just days later.

Nov. 17, 2022: The number of Ontarians whose deaths have been linked to COVID-19 has surpassed 15,000.


March 10, 2023: Canada’s chief public health officer says the COVID-19 virus has reached a relatively steady state in the country. However she says people who are older or immunocompromised continue to be disproportionately affected by the virus and urges people to keep up with their vaccinations.

To shared