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Ignoring Toronto park closures could cost you up to $5K

Tuesday, March 31st 2020, 8:47 am - As of Monday, Toronto had 591 cases of COVID-19, an increase of 50 from Sunday

Mayor John Tory says the city is prepared to impose minimum fines of $750 and potentially maximum fines of $5,000 on any Toronto resident who refuses to respect the closure of parks and amenities amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

"Please do what you are asked to do," Tory said at a city hall news conference on Monday.

Toronto now has 591 cases of COVID-19, an increase of 50 from Sunday. Six Toronto residents have died.

Tory said city officials have seen social media posts, received 311 calls and heard reports from councillors about people using parks and amenities now closed and not practising physical distancing. These amenities include sports fields, dog parks and fitness equipment.

The mayor said there have been reports of people gathering in large groups at parks and beaches, jumping over gates and fences at closed parks and soccer fields, removing locks and using park fitness stations taped off to prevent the spread of the virus.

"This is not physical distancing," Tory said. "It is irresponsible and insensitive behaviour and it risks spreading COVID-19 further in our community."

Tory said the city closed parks and amenities, such as soccer fields and dog parks, last week based on advice from public health officials. Enforcement by officials of instructions not to use parks and amenities takes valuable time and energy away from the fight against the disease, he added.

"We need people to respect the closures that we have implemented."

To make sure people get the message, crews were out blitzing and closing off parks, Tory said.

"I'm afraid the time is up for those who don't want to listen or who don't care. For them, we won't hesitate to issue a minimum $750 fine and potentially $5,000 fines, so maybe they will get the message."


Go HERE for our complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic


DOCTORS, NURSES, PUBLIC HEALTH STAFF AMONG THOSE INFECTED

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto's medical officer of health, told reporters that 67 people in Toronto are in hospital due to COVID-19, with 30 of them in intensive care units. Thirty people in all have recovered from the virus, she said.

About 24 per cent of all cases in Toronto are due to community transmission.

"These numbers are constantly changing and we should expect that they will increase in the coming days and weeks," she said.

Of the deaths in Toronto, two involve older men. A man in his 70s was admitted to Scarborough Hospital with COVID-19 last week and died on Sunday, while a man in his 80s was admitted to St. Michael's Hospital last week and died on Sunday night.

"I extend my sincerest and deepest condolences to the families and friends of these two men who passed away," she said.

De Villa said 12 doctors, 13 nurses and six other health care workers have tested positive.

As well, eight Toronto Public Health staff members who work in an an office at 277 Victoria St. have the virus, she said.

"We have carefully assessed this situation, the potential health risk to our team, and have provided instructions directly to the close contacts of these individuals. I have also asked for the vast majority of our staff to work from home," she said.

Staff members at 277 Victoria St. who are unable to work from home are wearing personal protective equipment for the next 14 days to prevent further spread of the virus, De Villa said.

She added that the building itself is safe.

De Villa also made an impassioned plea for Toronto residents to respect instructions to practise physical distancing. She said she knows it's difficult to hear about health care and essential service workers getting sick, but more will likely get sick before the pandemic runs its course.

"This is why it is so important to stay at home to reduce this virus spread," De Villa said. "We need to protect these people so they can continue to protect us. People shouldn't have to die, people shouldn't have to risk death taking care of us because others won't practise social, or physical, distancing. This is simply not acceptable."

De Villa said there is still time to flatten the curve.

"Our city still has an opportunity to limit the impact of this disease," she said.

"The physical distancing measures we are asking you to take are absolutely critical for our health, both as individuals and our city. Please stay home, stay safe and take care of each other."

CHARGES HAVE BEEN LAID, CITY SAYS

Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said parks staff have been working with police to ensure that people comply with public health instructions. He said charges have been laid.

Parks ambassadors have begun to patrol "hot spots" downtown to replace signs, locks and caution tape that have been removed.

Barriers are being set up at parking lots in parks where there are no gates, and electronic portable signs are being set up near busier parks to remind people that they are closed, he added.

The city's municipal licensing department has received 385 complaints about people failing to practise physical distancing in parks since March 24, he said. Staff have responded to 197 complaints and issued 19 notices for failure to comply.

"The city is very serious about this issue," he said.

"I am asking those who are ignoring this very clear public health advice to understand why we have implemented these restrictions. This is only being done in an effort to protect public health and safety by doing all we can do to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus."

Public health officials have gone to 232 bars and restaurants that were not complying with new rules. Seventy-three have been closed and 10 warning letters have been issued to those continuing to serve people in their establishments, he added.

Thumbnail: High Park. Courtesy: Chen Feng (Damn Lee)/Wikipedia Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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