Ontario premier pushing to lower gathering limits, warns 'severe fines' are coming
TORONTO -- Ontario Premier Doug Ford is pushing to rollback social gathering limits in the province’s three COVID-19 hotspots and said "severe fines" will be issued to anyone who ignores public health guidelines.
Social gathering limits will likely be reduced in Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa after Ford meets with his cabinet on Wednesday to discuss making changes to the current guidelines.
Ford said that the "highest fines in the country" will also be put in place to stop people from breaking the regulations.
"There are going to be severe fines for people who want to ignore the regulations and the guidelines," Ford said Wednesday at Queen's Park. "And it's going to be under provincial jurisdiction, not under federal jurisdiction, so we'll make sure they’re followed through."
Ford's comment was a jab at the federal government, who he claimed last week was not following through with charges after people were caught failing to self-isolate in Ontario.
He called the quarantine system "broken" and urged the federal government to start issuing charges.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu fired back at Ford later that day reminding him that provincial police can enforce quarantine rules too.
The province increased the social gathering limit in mid-July allowing up to 50 people to gather indoors and 100 people outdoors.
People quickly capitalized on the new rules, throwing end-of-summer parties, which public health official say contributed to spread of COVID-19 in densely populated cities.
Ontario's chief medical officer of health acknowledged that residents might have been confused about the new rules, and stressed that masking and physical distancing still applied during those gatherings – except for those included in a 10-person social bubble.
While Ford originally said last week that regional medical officers of health could impose localized restrictions, none took the premier up on the offer.
Instead, mayors of the affected areas held direct talks with Ford to raise concerns about the social gathering rules, strip clubs, and alcohol serving hours – pressing the premier to impose restrictions from a provincial level, but on a regional basis.
Ford and his cabinet will consider a number of options on social gathering limits. Government sources say, however, the limits may not apply to businesses, which have expressed concerns about the impact of further restrictions on the viability of their operations.
Ontario recorded another surge in the number of new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, surpassing Monday's reported 14-week high.
Health officials reported 315 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, which is the highest since June 5 when Ontario added 387 new infections.
There are 77 new cases in Toronto, 61 in Ottawa, 54 in Peel Region, 37 in York Region and 24 new in Durham Region.