Ontario is rolling back gathering limits in some areas of the province and also implementing new fines for people who host and attend large gatherings during the pandemic, Premier Doug Ford announced Thursday.
This comes as the province reported 293 new cases of COVID-19. Infections in Ontario have been on an upswing since mid-August.
Ford said that starting Friday in Toronto, Ottawa and Peel region, gatherings are now limited to 25 people outdoors and 10 indoors. Those new caps don’t extend to places such as restaurants, movie theatres, banquet halls, gyms and convention centres.
Ford said that the new gathering limits don’t apply to those areas or to schools, because those places have “really strict protocols in place.”
“We’re comparing apples and oranges here,” Ford said. Instead, the new measures are meant to discourage things like parties.
Toronto Public Health has previously cited weddings, restaurants and family trips as sources of virus transmission.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said Thursday he supports the province’s rollbacks for the area but also said it’s a “real concern” that the new measures don’t apply to places such as banquet halls.
Dr. David Williams, chief medical officer for Ontario, said at a news conference that the province has seen workplace infections, as well as cases in bars and restaurants — but he also noted that the majority of those cases were “staff-to-staff transmission.”
People at any gathering must also maintain distancing measures with people outside their social bubble, Ford said.
“This is to send a message to the reckless, careless people who want to hold these parties,” he said.
WATCH | Premier explains Ontario’s new gathering limits:
The premier said the province is also instituting a minimum fine of $10,000 for the organizers of illegal social gatherings, as well as a $750 fine for people who show up to them.
“We will throw the book at you if you break the rules,” Ford said.
“They must be a few fries short of a happy meal, these people.”
Ford also said the province is freezing residential rent increases in 2021 and extending Ontario’s current ban on commercial evictions.
3 more deaths
According to provincial data, there were 35,134 tests completed Wednesday in Ontario, which is the most since the end of July. There is also a backlog of 37,624 tests currently under investigation. Provincial officials have said demand for testing has risen sharply in recent days.
In a tweet, Health Minister Christine Elliott said 85 new cases were found in Toronto, with 63 discovered in Peel and 39 in Ottawa.
Elliott said that 70 per cent of the new cases were found in people under 40.
“With a slight increase in hospitalizations to 53, ICU admissions and vented patients remain stable,” Elliott said.
Twenty-one patients are currently in intensive care, with 12 on a ventilator.
The province also counted an additional three deaths Thursday, bringing Ontario’s total to 2,825. A CBC analysis of local public health units, which is more up to date than the provincial figures, had the real total at 2,864 deaths as of Thursday evening.
The province also marked 179 cases as resolved on Thursday.
Concentrated in urban areas
A CBC analysis shows that Ontario’s active cases — the bulk of which have been reported since Sept. 1 — are concentrated in the province’s most densely populated urban areas. Ottawa and the five public health units in the Greater Toronto Area account for 84 per cent of the current cases.
Of the more than 2,300 currently active cases in Ontario:
- The suspected method of exposure for 54 per cent of cases is either unknown, missing or labelled as “no epidemiological link,” which means the novel coronavirus is being spread in the community.
- More than one-third of active cases are among people in their 20s, even though that age group makes up only 14 per cent of the province’s population.
- More than half of active cases are in just two public health units — Toronto and Peel region.
As cases trend upward, the Ontario NDP forced a vote Thursday in the legislature on a motion to cap class sizes in the province’s schools at 15 students.
The motion did not pass — and was unlikely to, given that the Progressive Conservatives have a majority government.
“Doug Ford announced today that it’s no longer safe to have more than 10 people gather indoors, yet he’s still forcing classrooms to be jammed full with 25 or 30 kids, and school busses to be packed with up to 70 kids,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in a statement Thursday evening.
“Parents, education workers, teachers and students themselves are filled with anxiety. They’re wondering if their school is next. They’re wondering if their family is next.”
COVID cases have been reported at multiple schools in the province in recent days, largely clustered in and around the Greater Toronto Area.
Williams said Thursday there have been 62 COVID-19 cases found so far in Ontario schools, with 20 cases identified in students and 22 in staff, with 20 not yet identified.
Williams said when the number of people heading back to schools is considered, it is “still reassuring” that the number of infections isn’t higher.
Horwath said the province’s plan still wasn’t good enough.
“Doug Ford is penny-pinching on the backs of students, jamming kids into full-size classes to avoid having to hire more teachers and education workers,” she said.