Middlesex-London Medical Officer of Health Dr. Chris Mackie. (File photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)Middlesex-London Medical Officer of Health Dr. Chris Mackie. (File photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

Health unit gets tough on social gathering limits, ups fines

Maskless, large social gatherings that have led to COVID-19 outbreaks have prompted the Middlesex London Health Unit to take action.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Chris Mackie announced on Tuesday two new Section 22 Class Orders under the Health Protection and Promotion Act that relate to party size limits and when a face covering can be removed at dance clubs and nightclubs.

The first order re-iterates the province's cap on the number of people allowed at a social gathering - 25 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. It applies to all organized or informal public events or social gatherings held in private or on a street. It does not apply to facilities such as Budweiser Gardens, which is subject to different capacity rules under the provincial reopening measures.

The second order states people at establishments that serve food and alcohol, including dance and night clubs, must keep their face coverings on at all times. The only exception is when they are eating and drinking in a designated area. That area must be separated by at least two metres or by an impermeable barrier, such as plexiglass, under the order.

Mackie stated these orders are necessary because of the prevalence of the highly contagious Delta variant, the level of COVID-19 transmission, and increasingly risky behaviour that is occurring within the community.

"The gatherings that we have seen with young people are front of mind. We definitely are concerned about the level of close contact, the number of people in what we have already seen," said Mackie. "Of course, with things happening this weekend, we certainly could see more of that and so that is one of the issues."

There is concern that this weekend's planned fake homecoming (FOCO) celebrations involving Western University students could lead to a significant spike in cases. In addition to that, Mackie pointed to a video posted to social media last weekend that showed dozens of people packed shoulder-to-shoulder, few wearing masks, inside of a local club as proof tougher measures are needed to stop the spread.

"What we are offering here is a different, additional path for enforcement and it effectively increases the fines, it basically doubles the fines," said Mackie. "We know that is not going to solve all of the problems that exist, but for some people we hope it will help them to make a better decision."

Fines for first time violators start at $750 for an individual and $1,000 for a business. They increase for those caught in repeated violation, up to $5,000 per day for an individual and up to $25,000 per day for a corporation. In the case of violators of social gathering limits, they can be hit twice with the fine - once under the Ontario Reopening Act and again under the local Section 22 order.

The order will be enforced by a variety of agencies including police and any provincial enforcement officer, which includes bylaw inspectors, and public health inspectors.

Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Alex Summers added that there is a very simple way to avoid hefty fines associated with the orders.

"Keep your parties small. Keep them outdoors if you can, the weather is still good. If you're keeping those parties small, you can keep a better track of making sure everybody is vaccinated and remember that we will get through this," said Summers. "Every pandemic in history has always ended and we are on the home stretch."

The orders come into effect at noon on Thursday with no timeline for when they will come to an end.

Read More Local Stories