gatherings ontario

Ontario puts off plans to raise limit on gathering sizes

Premier Doug Ford's team has just confirmed that some parts of reopening the province may have to go a little slower than initially planned, at least when it comes to people being able to hang out with groups of loved ones again.

In a press conference on Monday, Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott announced that the limit on the number of people allowed to congregate in Ontario will not be increasing anytime soon.

They had initially said earlier this month that lockdown rules were likely going to change to permit social gatherings of up to 10 people as soon as last week.

But the official announcement never came, and Ford said that as of Wednesday, the province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, was still advising that we stick to the five-person maximum.

Though that guideline is due to remain in place until the end of Ontario's current state of emergency on May 29, it now looks like it will likely extend even later — and responses to the news are mixed, with some calling for a complete rollback of Stage 1 and some saying quite the opposite.

Elliott said today that the government is "reluctant" to move forward with expanding group sizes given the fact that new case counts are not dropping as much as health officials had hoped, hovering above 400 per day. Also, because people are still meeting up in groups that are too large (like those comprising the 10,000 or so people that packed Trinity Bellwoods Park on Saturday).

"We had been discussing pools of people that could be together, the social cohorting and so on, but given what's happened with the numbers of people coming down with COVID in the last few days, along with what has happened over this past weekend with large groups of people coming together... it has been pushed back a little bit," Elliott said on Monday.

She attributes the higher-than-desired COVID-19 stats from the past few days to people getting together for Mother's Day two weeks ago —garden centres and hardware stores also reopened for business that same weekend — saying that numbers later this week will be the ones that indicate whether Stage 1 of reopening the economy is dramatically worsening the virus's spread.

"If [cases] continue to increase, that will be a time for us to pause, to look at the situation, understand why the numbers are increasing and to take action or not take action going forward," she said.

As we test the waters, Ford has said that he will not hesitate to defer further reopening steps and reimplement earlier lockdown measures if there are continuous concerning spikes in the COVID-19 case data.

As of May 25, there have been 25,904 cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus diagnosed in Ontario, with 76 per cent of those considered to be resolved and 8.1 per cent proving fatal.

The province has been aiming to ramp up testing to its threshold of 20,000 per day, but has been coming up substantially short, though parameters for who can get tested have been expanded and Ford is urging any and all concerned residents to visit an assessment centre.

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