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red zone ontario rules

Here's who you're actually allowed to hang out with under Toronto's new red zone rules

This Saturday at 12:01 a.m., Toronto will enter the "red zone" of Ontario's new COVID-19 public health restriction system.

In addition to these new provincial orders, Toronto residents must also abide by new "specific enhanced measures" put in place by the city itself.

Of all the strange and confusing rule changes we've been through since the pandemic first hit, this might be one of the harder ones to follow — especially given that only some of the new regulations are actually enforceable.

We know that the indoor dining areas of bars and restaurants must remain closed, and that gyms will reopen, but without fitness classes and with a maximum capacity of 10 people inside any given facility.

As for social gatherings, however... things are a bit unclear. 

Do we abide by the province's red zone law of "10 people indoors, 25 people outdoors," or do we stay away from everyone we don't live with as suggested by local health officials? Can we still meet up with friends for a drink in the park? And if so, under what constraints?

Here's what you need to know about who you can, can't and shouldn't see over the next 28 days once Toronto leaves "modified Stage 2" for a double-pronged set of provincial and municipal restrictions on November 14:

  • Regardless of whether you're hosting a private shindig or an organized public event, Ontario's colour-coded framework states that no more than 10 people can gather indoors (25 outdoors) under red zone restrictions. Should you break this rule, you'll be breaking the law and can be fined up to $10,000 ($800 for attendees.)
  • Despite the province's own current gathering limits, Toronto Medical Officer of Health Dr. de Villa is advising everyone to limit human contact to only those they live with, plus "one or two essential supports."
  • "Restrict close contacts to household and eliminate visiting private homes, unless for emergency reasons, one-on-one teaching (e.g., tutoring), emergency repairs, renovations or construction," reads a City of Toronto document outlining de Villa's specific enhanced measures.
  • Toronto is also asking that residents "limit in-person activities outside the home to essential activities only." Work, school, healthcare, grocery shopping and exercise all count as essential.

While the social gathering guidelines put forth by Toronto aren't as legally binding as those put in place by the province, you'd be ill-advised not to follow them.

They are, after all, doctor's orders.

"In my professional opinion, the greatest harm would be to allow COVID-19 to continue to spread at this rate. It's logical to assume that it will only get worse," said de Villa when announcing the new Toronto-specific rules on Tuesday.

"To everyone in Toronto, I want to warn you in the plainest possible terms that COVID-19 is out there at levels we have not seen before. You should assume it is everywhere and that, without proper precautions and protections, you are at risk of infection."

In that vein, public health officials continue to urge all people in Ontario to follow their time-honoured advice when it comes to stopping the spread of this deadly virus: Wear a mask, wash your hands often, stay home if you're feeling ill and maintain a distance of at least two metres from anyone you don't live with.

If our fast-rising numbers are any indication, the whole "social bubble" thing didn't quite work out — so stick to Zoom for your friendly hangs if you want to stay healthy and on the right side of these latest COVID-19 restrictions.

Lead photo by

Jeremy Gilbert

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