Canada’s most populous province has announced new restrictions and steep fines amid a surge of Covid-19 infections that has prompted concerns the country is losing control of the virus.
Ontario premier Doug Ford on Thursday announced plans to limit the size of gatherings, reversing course on previous steps to reopen the province’s economy. The new rules reduce the size of indoor gatherings to 10, down from 50, and outdoor gatherings to 25, down from 100.
“This is a serious situation, folks,” said Ford of the coronavirus flare ups in the cities of Ottawa, Peel and Toronto. The province is implementing a C$10,000 fine for organizers of “illegal” gatherings.
“We will throw the book at you if you break the rules,” said Ford.
The move suggests a second wave of the virus is looming, after the province effectively slowed growth over the summer.
“This crisis is far from over,” said Ford.
Quebec, which since the start of the pandemic has been Canada’s worst-hit province , recorded 499 new cases of Covid-19, 251 of which over the past 24 hours.
Canada has recorded an average of 779 new daily cases – more than double the level experienced in July, the country’s top public health official said on Thursday.
“The ongoing increase in new cases being reported daily continues to give cause for concern,” chief public health officer Theresa Tam said in a statement, citing social gatherings for the spike. “With continued circulation of the virus, the situation could change quickly and we could lose the ability to keep Covid-19 cases at manageable levels.”
The surge in cases comes shortly after schools reopened across Canada. While a number of schools and universities have recorded outbreaks, officials believe the rise has been driven by social gatherings in homes, weddings and other private events.
While provinces have tried to limit class sizes, tens of thousands of students have opted for online learning.
Meanwhile testing facilities have been overwhelmed by a change in policy requiring children or parents with mild symptoms to be tested.
On Wednesday, Danijela Cabraja told Toronto-based CP24 that she waited for more than six and a half hours to get a test for herself and 10-year-old daughter, who had complained about throat pain.
“It’s endless. I can’t see where the assessment centre is from here,” she said as she waited in her car. She called the process “torture”.
In Ottawa, the nation’s capital, residents have also been forced to wait hours for a test.
“My patient with a sick baby stood for six hours today, in line, for Covid testing in Ottawa. We’re failing our community,” tweeted Dr Nili Kaplan-Myrth.
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole and his family also waited for hours at a testing centre in Ottawa, only to be turned away because the facility was at capacity, his team said in a statement.
O’Toole blamed prime minister Justin Trudeau’s government for failing to increase testing in recent weeks. O’Toole and Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-François Blanchet are in isolation, following close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.
In the western province of British Columbia, where hospitalizations have surged, poor air quality from forest fires in the United States have complicated efforts to combat the virus. Because of the smoke, teachers in the province have protested returning to schools.
“The combination of Covid-19 pandemic and extremely poor wildfire air quality is deeply concerning for #bced,” the province’s teacher’s union said in a post. “Teachers and students should not be in crowded classes with no ventilation or fresh air.”
Canada has so far recorded 139,747 cases and 9,193 coronavirus-related deaths.