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Bulletin | Covid-19

Government Orders Closing Businesses – Province by Province

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Corporate/Commercial Bulletin

A number of provincial governments have issued orders closing or severely limiting businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The following is a summary of the situation on a province-by-province basis as of March 30, 2020. To date, five provinces, Ontario, Québec, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, have enacted broad orders closing non-essential or non-priority businesses. In light of the evolving situation, it should be kept in mind that existing government orders may be amended or rescinded and new orders issued at any time. In addition, numerous federal and provincial government regulations have been enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, relating to matters such as financial relief for businesses, deferral of tax payments, and employee security and leave, all of which are addressed in Fasken COVID-19 Bulletins. The information provided in this Bulletin is not legal advice and is intended solely to provide general information.


On March 17, the Ontario government declared an emergency under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, to protect the health and safety of all individuals and families in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 24, pursuant to Ontario Regulation 82/20 , the Ontario government ordered the closing of all non-essential places of business, effective at 11:59 p.m. on that day. Under the Regulation, "Essential Businesses" , whose places of business may remain open, are found in the following categories:

  • Supply chains
  • Retail and wholesaling
  • Food services and accommodations
  • Institutional, residential, commercial and industrial maintenance
  • Telecommunications and IT infrastructure/service providers
  • Transportation
  • Manufacturing and production
  • Agriculture and food production
  • Construction
  • Financial activities
  • Resources
  • Environmental services
  • Utilities and community services
  • Communications industries
  • Research
  • Health care and seniors care and social services
  • Justice sector
  • Other businesses
  • Business regulators and inspectors

Within each of these 19 categories, there is a detailed list of essential businesses. For example, there are two specific essential businesses under "Manufacturing and production" (businesses that extract, manufacture, process and distribute goods, products, equipment and materials, including businesses that manufacture inputs to other manufacturers; and businesses, facilities and services that support and facilitate the two-way movement of essential goods within integrated North American and Global supply chains) while under "Retail and wholesaling", there are nine types of essential businesses (e.g., businesses that supply office products and services, including providing computer products and related repair and maintenance services, for individuals working from home and for essential businesses).

Under a separate emergency regulation, Ontario Regulation 51/20 enacted on March 17 at the same time as the declaration of emergency, a number of establishments were required to close immediately, including all bars and restaurants (except for takeout and food delivery), all facilities providing indoor recreational programs, and cinemas, theatres and concert venues. Grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies, among others, are not subject to the Regulation.


Québec declared a public health emergency on March 13 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has since been renewed (PDF). On March 24, Québec enacted Order in Council 223-2020 (PDF), ordering that "all activity carried on in work environments be suspended, except in work environments providing the priority services listed in the Schedule" to the Order, and except for "minimum activity needed to ensure the future resumption of the activities of enterprises providing non-priority services, excluding commercial enterprises" . The Order specified that it does not prevent teleworking in a private residence or its equivalent or prevent e-commerce or any other form of remote trading.

"Priority services maintained" as set out in the Schedule to the Order are found in the following categories:

  • Priority health services and social services
  • Public security services
  • Government services and other priority activities
  • Maintenance and operation of strategic infrastructure
  • Priority manufacturing activities
  • Priority commercial enterprises
  • Media and telecommunications services
  • Banking, financial and other services
  • Construction sector services
  • Building maintenance and upkeep services
  • Priority services in the field of transportation and logistics

Within each of these eleven categories, there is a detailed list of priority services. For example, under "Priority manufacturing activities", there are nine specific priority activities (e.g., food production; pulp and paper sector), while there are six under "Maintenance and operation of strategic infrastructures" (e.g., data centres; energy production, supply, transmission, transportation and distribution).

The Order effectively closed retail stores in Québec, subject to certain exceptions, including grocery stores and other food retailers; pharmacies; convenience stores; restaurants (for drive-through, take-out and delivery service only); hotels; moving firms; businesses supplying agricultural operations (machinery, fertilizer, etc.); furniture and household appliances (for online and telephone sales only); stores not in a mall offering grocery, pharmacy or hardware products; cleaners, laundries and laundromats; medical and orthopaedic supply firms; suppliers of pet food and supplies; work equipment (safety and protection); funeral services businesses and cemeteries; and the Société des alcools du Québec and Société québécoise du cannabis.

On March 20, the Québec government adopted Order in Council No. 222-2020 (PDF), prohibiting indoor and outdoor gatherings, subject to limited exceptions, including those required in a workplace that is not subject to a Québec government suspension, and those required to obtain a service or good from an individual, institution or business whose activities are not suspended. The exceptions are subject to the condition that assembled persons must, as much as possible, maintain a minimum distance of two metres between them. This rule should be kept in mind for workplace meetings in Québec.

On March 30, Québec Premier François Legault announced, and the Minister of Health and Social Services ordered (PDF), that during the month of April, all stores will be closed on Sundays, except for pharmacies, convenience stores, service stations, restaurants for drive-through, take-out and delivery, as well as grocery stores for orders placed online or by telephone and delivery. The Premier said that the measure was being taken to allow employees, especially those working in grocery stores, to get much-needed rest.

British Columbia

British Columbia declared a public health emergency on March 17 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic but has not issued a general order closing all businesses.

The British Columbia government has stated that "In consultation with the [Provincial Health Officer], essential services should and are encouraged to remain open" . The province defines essential services broadly as "essential to preserving life, health, public safety and basic societal functioning. They are the services British Columbians rely on in their daily lives" . Such businesses must, however, follow the orders and guidance provided by the Provincial Health Officer to ensure safe operations and reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.

As regards non-essential services, the British Columbia government has said that "any business or service that has not been ordered to close and is also not identified on the essential service list may stay open if they can adapt their services and workplace to the orders and recommendations of the [Public Health Officer]".

According to the British Columbia government website, the list of essential services was developed by Emergency Management BC in consultation with other government ministries and the Provincial Health Officer. The categories of businesses proving "essential services" are:

  • Health and health services
  • Law enforcement, public safety, first responders and emergency response personnel
  • Vulnerable population service providers
  • Food and agriculture service providers
  • Transportation, infrastructure & manufacturing
  • Sanitation
  • Non-health essential service providers
  • Critical infrastructure service providers
  • Communications, information sharing and information technology (IT)

Within each of these nine categories, there is a detailed list of essential services. For example, under "Transportation, Infrastructure & Manufacturing", there are 28 specific essential businesses and services (e.g., supply chain services needed to supply goods for societal functioning; hotels and places of accommodation).

British Columbia has issued public health orders prohibiting gatherings with 50 people or more, as well as an order for businesses to close if they cannot operate under physical distancing rules. British Columbia also issued orders prohibiting table service at restaurants and closing all personal services establishments, including salons, spas and tattoo shops.


Alberta declared a state of public health emergency on March 17, and on March 27 ordered the closing of non-essential places of business at locations accessible to the public pursuant to Chief Medical Officer of Health Order 07-2020 (PDF). The places of business ordered to close include retail stores offering only non-essential goods or services. The Order prohibited dine-in service in restaurants and other food-serving facilities.

Businesses providing "essential services" can continue to provide services at locations accessible to the public, subject to having proper risk mitigation measures in place, such as sanitation stations and appropriate distancing between customers. The categories of businesses proving "essential services" are:

  • Health, medical and public health
  • Public safety and security
  • Food and shelter
  • Energy and utilities
  • Water
  • Transportation
  • Industrial
  • Petroleum, natural gas and coal
  • Construction
  • Agriculture and horticulture
  • Retail
  • Financial services
  • Information and telecommunications
  • Public administration and government
  • Other essential services

Within each of these 15 categories, there is a detailed list of essential services. For example, under "Transportation", there are seven specific essential businesses and services (e.g., postal, courier and parcel delivery services) while there are eight under "Industrial" (e.g., businesses that support and facilitate the two-way movement of essential goods within integrated North American and global supply chains).

Albertans are prohibited from attending all non-essential retail businesses, including gift, hobby, antique and specialty stores; non-essential health and beauty care providers; clothing stores; and retail stores that sell luggage, art and framing supplies, computers and gaming equipment, toys, photos, music, books and sporting goods. These businesses may offer online shopping and curb-side pick-up.


Manitoba declared a state of emergency on March 22 to protect the health and safety of all Manitobans and reduce the spread of COVID-19. On March 30, Manitoba issued an Order under The Public Health Act (PDF), closing all non-essential places of business from April 1 to April 14, other than those listed in a schedule to the Order. Under the schedule, businesses in the following categories may remain open:

  • Supply chains
  • Retail and wholesale
  • Accommodations
  • Institutional, residential, commercial and industrial maintenance
  • Telecommunications and information technology
  • Communications industries
  • Transportation
  • Manufacturing and production
  • Agriculture and food production
  • Construction
  • Finance
  • Natural resources
  • Environmental services
  • Utilities and public works
  • Research
  • Health care, seniors care and social services
  • Justice sector
  • Professional services
  • Other businesses

Within each of these 19 categories, there is a detailed list of permitted businesses. For example, under "Transportation", there are six permitted businesses (e.g., a business that provides transportation services necessary for the activities of daily living) while there are seven under "Finance" (e.g., a business engaged in the capital markets).

All businesses listed in the schedule to the Order may remain open. However, if these business allow members of the public to attend at the place of business, the operator of the business must implement measures to ensure that persons attending the place of business are reasonably able to maintain a separation of at least two metres. The Order does not prevent businesses from providing goods by delivery or making goods available for pick-up, or from providing services online, by telephone or other remote means.

The Order also prohibits restaurants and other commercial facilities that serve food from serving food to customers in their premises. It does not prohibit delivery or takeout service, subject to the business implementing measures to ensure that persons attending the premises are able to maintain a separation of at least two metres.


On March 26, the Chief Medical Health Officer of Saskatchewan issued a Public Health Order (PDF) to help control transmission of COVID-19. The Saskatchewan government announced that all businesses that are not a critical public service or allowable business service must close during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. This is in addition to the business services that were ordered closed on March 23, namely, restaurants, food courts, cafeterias, cafes, bistros and similar facilities; recreational and entertainment facilities including fitness centres, casinos, bingo halls, arenas, curling rinks, swimming pools, galleries, theatres, museums and similar facilities, and personal service facilities.

The Saskatchewan government released a document entitled "Critical Public Services to Address COVID-19 and Allowable Business Services" (PDF) with a comprehensive list of critical public services and business services that are allowed to operate during the COVID-19 response in order to maintain critical services to the public and industry to prevent supply chain disruption.

The list of "allowable businesses" is comprised of the following categories:

  • Production, processing and manufacturing and the supporting supply chains
  • Transportation and logistics
  • Media and telecommunications
  • Construction including maintenance and repair
  • Retail services
  • Banking and financial services

Within each of these six categories, there is a detailed list of allowable business services.

Non-allowable business services are prohibited from providing public-facing services. Examples of this include: clothing stores; shoe stores; flower shops; sporting good and adventure stores; vaping supply shops; boat, ATV or snowmobile retailers; gift, book or stationery stores; jewelry and accessory stores; toy stores; music, electronic and entertainment stores; pawn shops; and travel agencies.

Nova Scotia

Although Nova Scotia declared a state of emergency (PDF) on March 22 to help contain the spread of COVID-19, it has not issued a general order closing all businesses. The state of emergency will be in effect for 14 days and may be renewed.

Pursuant to an Order dated March 26 of the Medical Officer of Health (PDF), all for-profit businesses and organizations operating or carrying on business in Nova Scotia may continue to operate but must implement social distancing of two metres or six feet within these workplaces.  Any for-profit business or organization carrying on business in Nova Scotia that cannot, due to its physical size, maintain this social distancing requirement must limit the number of customers or clients on its premises to no more than five persons at a time. However, the five-person rule does not apply to businesses which can maintain social distancing requirements, including without limitation, grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores, construction sites, financial institutions, and agrifood and fish plants. The foregoing social distancing requirement and five-person limit do not apply to food production plants.

Personal services, like hair salons, barber shops, spas, nail salons, body art establishments, and all fitness establishments, like gyms, must close. Restaurants are restricted to take-out and delivery orders only.

New Brunswick

Although New Brunswick declared a state of emergency on March 19, it has not issued a general order closing all businesses. Under a Renewed and revised Mandatory Order (PDF) dated March 25:

  • All businesses in retail sales must stop admitting patrons, except: grocery stores; pharmacies; repair garages; post offices; financial and lending institutions; retailers of fuel, hardware and automotive parts; convenience stores; animal and fish feed providers; and corporate and agency stores of NB Liquor and Cannabis NB. All businesses required to stop admitting patrons are permitted to sell online or by telephone and to arrange delivery or pick-up of purchases.
  • Owners and managers of all workplaces and organizers of all activities will take all reasonable step to ensure minimal interaction of people within two metres of each other and carry out advice to minimize risk as issued by the Chief Medical Officer of Health.
  • All owners and managers of all workplaces will reduce to critical functions and will take every reasonable step required to prevent people who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 from entering the workplace, in accordance with advice issued by the Chief Medical Officer of Health or Worksafe New Brunswick. They will also take every reasonable step required to prevent people from entering workplaces who have travelled internationally in the previous 14 days.
  • Owners and operators of all other premises at which people may gather in large numbers will take all reasonable steps to prevent gatherings of more than ten people.
  • All food and beverage businesses are reduced to take-out and delivery service only.
  • All lounges and special facilities licensed under the Liquor Control Act must stop admitting patrons.
  • All swimming pools, spas, saunas, waterparks, gymnasiums, yoga studios, dance studios, rinks and arenas, tennis courts, climbing walls, escape rooms, ski hills, golf courses, arcades, amusement centres, pool halls, bowling alleys, casinos, cinemas, libraries, museums, aquariums, barbers, hair stylists, esthetics service providers, sugar bush operations, and theatres or other live performance venues must stop admitting members of the public.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Although effective March 18 the Minister of Health and Community Services declared COVID-19 a public health emergency under the Public Health Protection and Promotion Act, Newfoundland and Labrador has not issued a general order closing all businesses.

Pursuant to an Order enacted on March 23 (PDF), the following facilities were ordered to close: gyms and fitness facilities, including yoga studios, tennis and squash facilities; dance studios; cinemas; performance spaces; arenas; bingo halls; personal services establishments including spas, esthetic services, hair salons, body piercing, tattooing and tanning salons; retail stores, unless they provide services essential to the life, health or personal safety of individuals and animals; and businesses that hold a license under the Liquor Control Act whose primary purpose is the consumption of beer, wine or spirits.

Restaurants are permitted to offer take-out, delivery and drive-thru services. In-person dining is prohibited. Finally, gatherings of more than ten people are prohibited.

Prince Edward Island

Although Prince Edward Island declared a public health emergency on March 16, it has not issued a general order closing businesses.

The government has stated that anyone who must access essential services is to practice safe social distancing and good hand hygiene and that only one person per household should be going out to get groceries or supplies from essential services. To that end, "essential services" are described as services the interruption of which would endanger the life, health or personal safety of the whole or part of the population.

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