Social gathering limits scaled back in Ontario hotspots, $10K fines announced

The Ford government is cracking down on the number of people at social gatherings in Toronto, Peel and Ottawa and bringing in hefty fines for rule breakers. Cynthia Mulligan with the region calling to be included in the new rules.

By News staff

The Ford government announced that starting on Friday, social gathering limits will be reduced to 10 indoors and 25 outdoors for Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa.

Indoor and outdoor events cannot be merged and the cap is not cumulative — gatherings of 35 are not permitted.

At a news conference on Thursday, Premier Doug Ford said the cap includes parties in backyards and gatherings in parks, but won’t be applied to restaurants, bars and other staffed businesses like cinemas, gyms, convention centres and sporting or performing arts events. Current public health measures continue to apply to those businesses.

The new guidelines also do not apply to weddings held in banquet halls or convention centres that already must follow existing social distancing and other public health measures.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said he is concerned about that decision because the city has identified the spread of COVID-19 at a number of weddings.

“Weddings are opportunities for crowds of people to get together … (and) in the end, these are places that it seems the virus is spreading. So, we’re going to have to have a look at how we can educate people better,” Tory said.

“We will throw the book at you,” Ford said, warning that anyone who breaks the rules will face steep fines.

“They must be a few fries short of Happy Meal, these people. I just don’t get it. They go out there, they know the rules and they just blatantly ignore it. They’re hurting families.”

Fines of between $10,000 and $100,000 will apply to hosts of parties who do not adhere to the new guidelines. Anyone who attends the parties can be fined $750.

The previous limit on social gatherings was 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors.

Markham mayor Frank Scarpitti said he was disappointed that the York Region was not included among the areas where the new restrictions would apply.

“We want to avoid becoming another COVID-19 hotspot,” Scarpitti said in a release. “Not only does this leave our community more vulnerable, but could also invite illegal gatherings in our backyard through short-term rental accommodations.”

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said Thursday he and other medical officials are monitoring infection rates in other regions of the province, and it’s possible the tightened restrictions could be expanded.

“Three (regions) is a start,” Dr. David Williams said. “It would be nice if we didn’t have to go beyond that, but I don’t rule out that we would have to go beyond that.”

The new rules will also not change the way schools in the affected areas are operating, said Health Minister Christine Elliott.

“What we have in our schools is a situation where people are in cohorts, they are wearing masks, they are achieving physical distancing that’s required, and following the hand-washing (guidelines),” she said. “None of this is happening in these unmonitored social gatherings.”

Liberal House Leader John Fraser said the new rules for social gatherings don’t jibe with the province’s stance on school reopenings, where critics say physical distancing isn’t possible in classrooms with nearly 30 students.

“The most important thing is clarity, and that hasn’t been coming from the government,” Fraser said.

Prior to Ford’s announcement, Tory told Breakfast Television he supported a restriction on gatherings in the city and elsewhere in the GTA.

“There are places in the province, many places where they are just not having any new cases, or maybe they are having one. But we have a problem here with the trend line. Our medical officer of health told us yesterday that the trend line is very concerning,” Tory said.

Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report

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