Ontario conducting inspection blitz on big-box stores this weekend

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An inspection blitz of big-box stores is set to begin today as the Ontario government moves to enforce its new, more stringent public health rules.

The province said earlier this week it would send 50 inspectors to stores in five regions — Toronto, Hamilton, Peel, York and Durham.

Labour Minister Monte McNaughton has said inspectors will focus on compliance with masking and physical distancing rules, as well as other health guidelines.

He said they’ll have the authority to temporarily shut down facilities found to be breaching the rules, and to disperse groups of more than five people.

The minister said inspectors will also be able to issue tickets of up to $750 to management, workers or customers if they’re not abiding by the measures.

Premier Doug Ford, who has faced criticism for allowing big-box stores to remain open for on-site shopping while smaller businesses are restricted to curbside pickup or online sales, vowed this week to crack down on big lineups and other infractions at large retailers.

The weekend blitz comes days after the province enacted an order requiring residents to stay at home for all but essential purposes, such as shopping for groceries or accessing health care.

The province has said police will be enforcing the order but won’t have the power to stop people randomly to check their reasons for being outside.

Ontario’s stricter measures were announced after grim projections on COVID-19 suggested the health system could be overwhelmed if cases continue to rise at current rates.

Ontario reported 2,998 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and 100 more deaths linked to the virus.

Forty-six deaths logged in Middlesex-London had actually occurred early in the pandemic, however, and were included in Friday’s numbers due to database consolidation.

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