The provincial government will be reducing the size of gatherings in Toronto, Peel Region, and Ottawa back down to 10 people inside and 25 outdoors following a surge in COVID-19 cases in the three regions, Premier Doug Ford says.
The new restrictions will not apply in "staffed businesses," including restaurants, movie theatres, banquet halls and gyms, Ford says, and will not impact weddings so long as festivities occur in a business such as a banquet hall.
The new measures include a $10,000 fine for "organizers of illegal social gatherings," as well as the current $750 fine for those who attend those gatherings that do not respect emergency rules.
"We will throw the book at you if you break the rules, and we cannot afford to have a few rule breakers reverse all of the progress Ontario has made over the past six months," Ford said.
The new rules take effect in Ottawa, Toronto and Peel Region on Friday at 12:01 a.m.
The new restrictions also won't apply in parks, sports fields or places of worship provided existing mandated physical distancing measures are maintained.
The legislation is written in a way that it will also prevent people from hosting a "hybrid" indoor and outdoor event with 25 people outside and 10 people inside.
Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday that members of his cabinet were scheduled to meet yesterday to discuss reducing the number of people who are allowed to gather in private settings in the three COVID-19 hotspots.
Ontario recorded 315 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, the highest daily count of infections reported since early June. In Toronto, 85 new cases were confirmed on Thursday, along with 63 in Peel Region, and 39 in Ottawa.
Ford said the new measure is meant to target those "free-for-all" parties occurring in these locales where attendees are "hugging, drinking, kissing, spitting and everything else you can think of in the world."
Currently under Stage 3 of the province’s reopening plan, 100 people are permitted to gather outdoors and 50 can gather indoors.
That will remain the case in all other public health regions of Ontario, but Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Williams said it would be prudent if people elsewhere in the province kept gatherings small as well.
"You may want to go down to those levels even if it is not required in your area, just to be on the safe side," he said.
Speaking to CP24 on Thursday morning, infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch said he believes further restricting the size of gatherings will likely be “warmly received” by most people.
“I like that it is a regional approach and it certainly targets areas where there is a greater burden of COVID-19. So that's certainly one positive,” he said.
“Quite frankly, it is the right time to do it. We've had a couple of days where cases have been over 300. We've seen a consistent rise in cases across the province mainly driven by those three areas. It's time to act.”
Tory says province should have also gone after weddings
The Ford government’s decision to introduce stricter limits on allowable gatherings in the parts of the province with the highest number of COVID-19 infections comes on the heels of several days of lobbying from mayors in those communities.
During a media availability at city hall on Thursday afternoon, Toronto Mayor John Tory said that he believes the move will be supported by “the vast majority” of residents and will ultimately help to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Tory said that he is particularly pleased with the higher fines for rule breakers, which he said will not only allow enforcement officials to “throw the book at people” but will give them “a bigger book to throw.”
Tory, however, did say that he had hoped more could have been done to crack down on weddings, which will be mostly exempted from the new limits unless they are being held in a backyard.
Toronto Public Health has previously said that it has traced at least 22 infections to four recent weddings. York Region Public Health also said earlier this month that they tracked 11 infections to four different wedding events held over the span of a single weekend.
“It is of real concern to me because we have seen this happen at not one, not two but quite a few weddings. Weddings of course are joyous occasions but they are also opportunities for big crowds of people to get together and in the end these are places where it seems the virus is spreading,” Tory said. “We are going to have a look at how we can try to educate people better and try to see if there are other rules that can be put into place that can address that but it is a concern that some of these large gatherings which have proven to be a breeding ground for the virus, in particular weddings, are not subject to some of these tougher regulations.”