London’s top officials ready to lay fines if people break new gathering restrictions
LONDON, ONT -- When Ontario Premier Doug Ford took to the podium Saturday for a rare weekend news conference, he may have been speaking to Western University students when he delivered a stern message.
"We can’t have these wild parties right now. It’s way, way too risky," Ford said.
Ford was at Queen's Park to announce the entire province will be scaling back the size of social gatherings.
Effective immediately, new gathering sizes will be capped at 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors for at least the next 28 days. The previous gathering limits were 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.
The new limits come just a day after both London Mayor Ed Holder and the local medical officer of health made the plea to be included in the restricted regions.
"It's great to see on a Saturday there is a major provincial policy change," says Dr. Chris Mackie, the medical officer of health for the London-Middlesex Health Unit.
The restrictions do not apply to events or gatherings held in "staffed businesses" or facilities such as movie theatres, banquet halls, gyms or convention centres. Those facilities can still have 50 people indoors as long as people maintain proper physical distance from anyone outside their 10-person social circle.
The new rules also do not apply to places of worship or wedding ceremonies, although large receptions held in private residences, backyards or parks will fall under the gathering limits.
Holder stressed it does apply to anyone thinking of getting together over the next month. "This applies to everyone whether you are a Western or Fanshawe student or someone who is planning a big family gathering," says Holder.
"Please, if there is a time to pay mind it's now. For those that don't get it, fines are hefty and they are serious and will be laid."
Those who organize or host illegal social gatherings can be fined a minimum $10,000, while those who attend such parties and gatherings can be fined $750. Both the city and the health unit will be clamping down.
Holder says municipal bylaw officers will be ready.
"The MLHU inspectors and the police will both be out. A lot of people are paying attention now."
Mackie says the problem is predominantly post-secondary students. "We'll be working with Western, and we are asking people in that community to supporting others and report violations to us," says Mackie.
"Public health inspectors can take reports and follow-up in real time. We've also shifted schedules so people can work in evenings when this activity is happening. We’ll be prepared and on top of it."
The new restrictions come into place just a week ahead of the annual FOCO party on Broughdale Avenue. Holder hopes students act like they did on St. Patrick's Day at the beginning of the pandemic.
"Students were attentive, paid mind and respected what had to be done," says Holder.
Earlier this week Western University President Alan Shepard said the outbreak numbers were "very concerning." The conduct would have to be egregious and affect the health and safety of someone else before the university could respond.
Speaking during a briefing on Thursday, Shepard added, “We do expect our students to comply with the rules of public health…and we do have a code of conduct we can implement if people continue to break the rules.”
However Mackie said Saturday he hopes the four positive cases down from 13 the previous day are a sign of things going in the right direction. "We did see dramatic change after outbreak announced this week," says Mackie. "Hopefully that's what is playing out in the numbers."