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A young woman relaxes on a set of swings in a children's playground in Toronto on Wednesday March 25, 2020.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Toronto is clamping down on use of the city’s green space, closing municipally owned playgrounds, off-leash dog areas, sports fields and other park amenities in a bid to stop people gathering in risky groups. The city said Wednesday these shutdowns were effective immediately and that violators could face fines running to thousands of dollars.

In response, the Toronto District School Board said it would close immediately its own playgrounds and other outdoor amenities, including sports fields and basketball and tennis courts, at its nearly 600 schools.

The move narrows the outdoor options for residents, many of whom are working from home and being encouraged to stay inside as much as possible to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. While the city’s top doctor has made it clear that time outdoors is not prohibited, residents have been told to keep their distance from each other.

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“We were very much hoping that our community would be able to respect the six-foot distance from others, outside, so that they could enjoy those spaces safely,” Medical Officer of Health Eileen de Villa told a briefing Wednesday afternoon.

“But unfortunately we were getting a number of calls and concerns from Toronto residents. And certainly I observed and I know that many of us here around the city were observing … that there were violations, people who were simply not following the recommendation to remain six feet apart.”

Fire Chief Matthew Pegg, who is heading the city’s emergency efforts, said the shut-down would be enforced under the Toronto Municipal Code. “Depending on the nature of the offence, the fines associated with accessing or using a city-owned facility or amenity can be as high as $5,000,” he told the briefing.

In a statement, Toronto officials said 1,500 city-owned parks, more than 800 playgrounds, approximately 70 off-leash dog areas and hundreds of playing courts would be affected. Where possible, these amenities will be locked. In other cases they will be taped off and signs will be posted. Also being closed are hundreds of parking spaces associated with parks.

Dr. de Villa is also calling for the shut-down of playgrounds and parks amenities not owned by the city.

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