Ontario’s new restrictions on outdoor gatherings raise eyebrows

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Public health experts are raising their eyebrows at Ontario’s decision to restrict outdoor gatherings, saying the latest evidence suggests the measures won’t do much to cut down on COVID-19 transmission.

Premier Doug Ford announced Friday that only members of the same household would be able to congregate outdoors as part of a suite of measures meant to bolster the province’s losing battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

Police have been granted sweeping new powers to enforce the rules.

They’ll be able to stop cars or pedestrians at random to check on their reason for being out and request their home address.

Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician with St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, says limiting outdoor gatherings could “shoot (the government) in the foot.”

He says it could push people who would otherwise gather outdoors to congregate inside, where they won’t be so easily detected by police.

“It’s a whole lot easier, when you’re talking about enforcement rules with police, to actually just congregate indoors away from the watchful eye,” he said. “If you start forcing people indoors — where they’re not being watched, where they can congregate easily — you’re defeating the point of these restrictions.”

He pointed to a study out of Ireland that found that even during an outbreak of the B.1.1.7 variant, which first emerged in the U.K., just 0.1 per cent of cases originated outdoors.

“So 99.9 per cent are associated with the indoors,” he said.

Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease physician with Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont., tweeted that the move is “fraught with visibility bias.”

He said it is “not a good risk mitigation strategy.”

The province is also closing playgrounds and golf courses.

The news came as a disappointment to Brian Decker, director of communications with TPC Toronto, home to three golf courses.

“There’s been a lot of messaging about encouraging people to get outside, and golf has been a safe way to do that,” he said. “Golf is really the perfect sport for this kind of situation.”

But he said he understands the need for the government to take action, and TPC Toronto will comply with the new measures.

That means closing the courses immediately after officially opening to annual members — a bitter pill to swallow.

The golf course had just hired and trained new staff and ordered inventory for what little food and beverage service they were allowed to offer, he said.

“You prepare for business and the very same day that you open, you find out you have to close again,” he said.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

4 COMMENTS

  1. i have news for Doug Ford, adults need a playground as well, not just children. If the Toronto Parks are a problem, close them. Your own infectious disease experts are telling you that there has been essentially no transmission from outdoor events. And what does he do , drive people back inside. “Ontario’s closure of outdoor recreational activities (including pickleball!) to control #COVID19 does not make sense,” Dr Andrew Bogoch tweeted on Saturday.

    “Outdoor activities are vital for mental & physical health, especially with stay-at-home orders. Science is clear: Outdoor COVID transmission is extremely rare.”

    So i guess he is really not listening to the infectious disease experts. The real question is who is he listening to?

  2. People are just so tired of this never-ending fiasco. When they have these big cabinet meetings in Ontario do they ever really discuss the ramifications of their decisions? Ford is so wishy-washy and does not seem to understand that the more you get people outside…the better, campgrounds…golf courses…parks are all safe places to be(IMHO). The buck stops with you, Mr. Ford.

  3. Ford is in panic mode now and blaming everyone and everything but himself…When this all started he couldn’t quit praising Trudeau and loved working with the federal liberals, now he is trying to blame them for everything that is wrong with the world… Now he is even turning down federal help when it’s offered.. Both Ford and Jason Kenny are complete fools…

    Reply moderated
    • So is Trudeau but we already knew that. He has made foolish decisions that have cost people their lives.
      Flights coming in from around the world with people with the China virus and now the variants.
      Ford has made blunders but they are confined to this province.

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