It’s been a confusing weekend following Friday’s announcement of new, more stringent COVID-19 restrictions by the Provincial government. Perhaps sensing that uncertainty, the City of Guelph, Guelph Police Service, and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health issued a joint statement on Sunday morning that clarified the new police powers, and when they will be used.
“Guelph Police and Bylaw Officers understand the intent of the Emergency Orders is to discourage unnecessary travel and gatherings among people who don’t live together,” the statement reads. “Any new enforcement tools will be used with discretion. Guelph Police and Bylaw officers will not randomly stop vehicles or individuals.”
“Guelph Police and Bylaw Officers have and will issue charges and fine people or businesses that blatantly, repeatedly or deliberately violate provincial regulations and public health guidelines,” it added.
This is in line with the separate announcement from Guelph Police on Friday night when they said it was their intention to not exercise the new powers granted to them by the Provincial government. “It is not our intention to conduct random vehicle or person stops,” they wrote. “As a Service, we are encouraged that the vast majority in our community have taken COVID restrictions seriously. We recognize it has not been easy and sincerely appreciate the community’s willingness and desire to work together.”
Guelph was one of numerous police services that came out on Friday evening with an announcement that they did not intend to follow the Province’s directive for random checks including Waterloo Region, Peterborough, Ottawa, Halton Region, London, and Toronto.
Sunday’s statement did affirm that the police have the authority to ask an individual to supply identification for the purposes of “determining compliance where there is reason to suspect the individual is participating in a prohibited gathering.” Police can also disperse or issue charges or fines for any gathering, indoors or outdoors, of people who aren’t in the same household, and then can issue charges or fines for anyone not wearing a mask as required indoors or on a Guelph Transit vehicle.
For the week of April 5 to 12, Guelph Police and City Bylaw answered 65 calls about gatherings and issued two charges for $750 each. They were also called to seven businesses about potential violations of guidelines, but no charges were laid. There were also no charges laid on campus by Campus Police in the same time period, but the University of Guelph is currently in the process of final exams for the winter semester.
In a supplementary statement, the City of Guelph confirmed changes made to provincial orders announced Saturday by Premier Doug Ford. Playgrounds and play equipment can now be used, and so can the off-leash dog parks, but sports fields, golf and frisbee golf courses, tennis courts, basketball courts and the skatepark are still closed. Picnic sites and picnic tables are also off limits.
After a province-wide uproar that closing playgrounds was a step too far, the Premier said Saturday he had changed his mind. “Ontario’s enhanced restrictions were always intended to stop large gatherings where spread can happen,” Ford said in a tweet. “Our regulations will be amended to allow playgrounds but gatherings outside will still be enforced. Play outside safely. Parents keep your distance & wear masks if you can’t.”
The danger is still quite real, even here in Guelph. On Friday, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer released a letter to the community asking everyone to keep up public health measures because the number of variant cases of the virus is up to 70 per cent now, and Guelph has even had its first case of the P1 variant from Brazil. This particularly virulent form of the virus is the source of a new wave of outbreaks in British Columbia, which is now home to the largest outbreak of P1 outside of Brazil.
“This wave of the pandemic is like nothing we have experienced during the past year. Make no mistake: COVID-19 variants of concern move more easily between people and increase the risk of debilitating illness or death – especially among those from age 20-40,” Mercer wrote. “There can be no doubt – this is a dangerous time. If you have been relaxed about public health measures up until now please change, for the sake of your family and loved ones. This is my ask until the end of the stay-at-home order.”
As of Friday, the 7-day moving rate of confirmed cases was 165.4 per 100,000 and the test positivity was 6.6 per cent. There are currently 634 active cases of COVID-19 in our region with more than half of those cases, 384, in Guelph alone with 119 in Wellington County and 117 in Dufferin County. There have been 6,217 total cases of COVID-19 in the region since the start of the pandemic, including 106 fatalities.