A spike in the number of coronavirus cases in Ontario is leading some experts to say the province is close to a second wave of the pandemic. The upward trend began more than a week ago and the Ontario government is scrambling to introduce measures to combat the spread, including hefty fines for people who refuse to follow the health guidelines.
With most children now going back to school across the province, cracks are beginning to appear in the province’s plan to fight COVID-19.
At the beginning of August, there were fewer than 100 coronvirus cases in Ontario. A week ago there were more than 200. This weekend that number had jumped to 401 on Friday and 407 on Saturday. These were some of the highest in nearly four months.
In response, Premier Doug Ford expanded his government’s measures to include more restrictions on organized public events and social gatherings. At first they focused only on Toronto, Ottawa and the Peel Region. But by Friday, with the numbers skyrocketing, they now include the entire province.
"Outdoor gatherings will be restricted to a maximum of 25 people and indoor gatherings will be restricted to a maximum of 10 people," Ford said. "This includes social events and gatherings like private parties in your backyard or barbecues held in your home backyards and parks.”
Ford said his government is going even further and bringing in the toughest penalties in Canada for people who don’t follow the pandemic guidelines.
"A minimum fine of $10,000 for the organizers of illegal social gatherings, in addition to the $750 fine for individuals who break the rules and show up to these parties," Ford said. "And we have to come down hard on the rule breakers. We have to crack down on the illegal parties."
That message was echoed by Toronto Mayor John Tory.
"People, particularly young people, they want to fun. They want to live their lives. I get that," Tory said, "But the fight is not over. COVID-19 is still here.”
The new rules coincide with the continuing controversy over children returning to school. Teachers have insisted that they and the children are not safe with the current measures and are still calling for the Ford government to mandate smaller class sizes.
Andrea Horvath is the leader of the Opposition New Democratic Party. Horvath said health experts have all said class sizes should be small enough to allow for physical distancing.
"Here we are today, where Mr. Ford is saying it is not safe to have more than 10 people in an enclosed space at any time. What about our kids?" Horvath asked.
The back-to-school plan has already experienced problems. One school in the Ottawa region has closed because of an outbreak. There also is a shortage of school bus drivers, forcing the cancellation of about 100 bus routes in the province.
Rhonda Floriant is with Montgomery Bus Lines.
"Because of COVID and the age demographic of a lot of drivers, puts them in a vulnerable category, or they’ve got pre-existing health conditions and their doctors have decided it’s not safe to come back at this time."
Another sign worrying health officials is the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases at nursing homes - former hotspots, which many had believed were not under control. And there have been long lineups at testing centers, some reaching capacity before even opening for the day.
All signs indicating that some parts of Ontario are close to a second wave of the pandemic.