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Peel Region pledges $5K fines for businesses who violate public health rules

Last Updated Nov 14, 2020 at 8:36 pm EST

A restaurant displays a "Take Out Only" sign on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. Ontario's two most heavily populated regions will see more businesses open their doors today as Toronto and Peel move into the next stage of the province's COVID-19 recovery plan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Businesses in a prominent Ontario COVID-19 hot spot may face steep fines in the weeks ahead if they ignore rules meant to keep the virus from spreading further afield, the region’s top doctor announced Saturday as the province posted yet another single-day record for new cases.

Dr. Lawrence Loh, chief medical officer of health for Peel Region, said businesses could be fined up to $5,000 a day for flouting public health protocols, warning that workplace outbreaks are driving case counts higher.

Loh issued the new public health order to create the fine system as Peel reported 497 new cases of the virus, accounting for more than a quarter of the 1,581 cases recorded provincewide in the past 24 hours.

“Spread of COVID-19 in workplaces continues to drive rising case counts in Peel,” Loh said in a statement. “While most workplaces take great care to protect their employees, some employers continue to disregard the safety of their people and as a result, the Peel community.”

Peel Region said Saturday it has had 116 workplace outbreaks from Sept. 1 to Nov. 13. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the region said it has investigated more than 1,500 potential COVID-19 exposures in workplaces.

Nearly 60 per cent of the outbreaks have taken place in the manufacturing, food processing, distribution, and transportation sectors.

Loh also urged employers to give their workers paid sick days to allow them to stay home if they show symptoms or test positive for COVID-19.

“It’s time for employers who choose not to pay employees when they are sick to put people over profit,” he said. “The cost of COVID-19 spreading across our community is far greater than the price of a few sick days.”

Loh’s new public health order came as Ontario continued to report surging case counts across the province. Along with Saturday’s record-setting daily tally, Ontario reported 20 new deaths associated with the novel coronavirus.

In addition to Peel’s case count, Health Minister Christine Elliott said 456 of the new cases were found in Toronto, 130 in York Region and 77 in Ottawa.

Hamilton, Halton and York regions are to move to the “red” level on Monday.

The tiered system has faced criticism since it was announced last week, with many health experts including the Ontario Medical Association calling it too lax.

Critics have noted that, among other things, indoor dining is permitted in restaurants and bars even under the red alert level.

Meanwhile, a large group of protesters took to the streets of a small southwestern Ontario town on Saturday to voice their opposition to the province’s latest efforts to impose public health restrictions.

Hundreds of maskless people marched along a walking path running through St. Thomas, Ont., under the eye of local police.

Handfuls of counter-protesters dotted their route and occasionally exchanged barbs with the marchers, but the event unfolded peacefully.