Ontario is restricting social gatherings and parties across the province as Premier Doug Ford warned of an “alarming growth” in new COVID-19 cases.
In a rare Saturday press conference, Mr. Ford said the government is immediately cracking down on social gatherings in every region of the province, a day after stricter measures came into effect in the COVID-19 hot spots of Toronto, Ottawa and Peel, west of Toronto.
“Folks, the alarm bells are ringing. And too much of it is being tied to people who aren’t following the rules,” Mr. Ford said. “People who think it’s ok to hold parties, to carry on as if things are back to normal. They aren’t.”
The new limits are 10 people inside and 25 people outside, a change from the previous limit of 50 people inside and 100 outside. They are in effect for at least 28 days.
Ontario also introduced legislation this week to raise fines for breaking the rules, with a minimum fine of $10,000 for party organizers and $750 for anyone who attends the event.
The new limits apply to private parties and gatherings in homes and in parks and recreational areas, but not to staffed facilities or businesses such as restaurants, bars, convention centres or banquet halls.
The Premier was also asked why the new rules don’t apply to classrooms, which he has previously said is an “apples to oranges” comparison. Ontario’s opposition parties have repeatedly criticized the government for not capping classes at 15 students.
Mr. Ford gave a shout-out to teachers and principals for following public health guidelines. “They’re doing everything they can but as the community spread is happening, it effects everyone. So we’re going to keep a sharp eye on it.”
Ontario on Saturday reported more than 400 cases of COVID-19 for the second day in a row, with a record 39,000 tests completed on Friday.
NDP Deputy leader Sara Singh said the government’s announcement is inconsistent and doesn’t go far enough, repeating her party’s demand to cap class sizes at 15 students. She also called for a massive ramp up in testing and a plan for long-term care homes.
“The Ford government was not prepared for this spike in cases, and they should have been. They’ve been chasing crisis after crisis instead of being ready,” she said in a statement.
With long testing lines being reported in several urban centres, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the government’s fall preparedness plan will be released early next week, including measures to increase testing and lab capacity across the province.
Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, said the recommendation to cap gatherings province-wide is “precautionary,” with cases rises predominantly in urban areas but in other regions as well.
She said she didn’t have specific data on cases coming from social gatherings, but the province is seeing an increase in gatherings as a cause in an “increasing portion of cases.” She noted that social gatherings outside of a person’s social circle still have to take place with physical distancing and masking measures in place.
Dr. Yaffe said the Public Health Agency of Canada has come out with three models for a “second wave” of the coronavirus; a big wave of sustained increases of three to four times the size of the first wave; smaller, multiple waves; or a “slow burn” with no waves.
“At this point in Ontario our numbers are rapidly going up. It is a wave. Are we seeing the big second wave or are we seeing a smaller wave?” she said. “Really, it’s hard to say.”
Mr. Ford also said the new limits should apply to protests as well. “Everyone has to follow the same rules,” he said. “Do not go out there in these massive protests. That would be dangerous for the community.”
The Premier was also asked about his in-person meeting with three premiers Friday, including Quebec Premier Francois Legault, who said he will get tested and self-isolate after Conservative leader Erin O’Toole reported a positive test late Friday, despite having no symptoms.
Mr. Ford said the Premiers followed strict physical distancing at their meeting on Friday, and wore masks when not at the press conference. He said he’s “feeling good,” but won’t hesitate to get a test if he develops symptoms.
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