NEWS
05/24/2020 09:38 EDT | Updated 05/24/2020 20:12 EDT

Trinity Bellwoods Park Overcrowding Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things During Pandemic

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he was "absolutely shocked" by the images.

TORONTO — Ontario Premier Doug Ford added his voice to the condemnation of people who crowded into a downtown park on Saturday during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

“The images I saw yesterday, from Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto — I thought it was a rock concert,” Ford said during an update on Sunday. “I was absolutely shocked.”

It’s understandable that people want to enjoy the nice weather, he said, but he urged Ontarians to exercise caution.

“We just can’t have that right now. It’s just too many people too close,” Ford said. “There’s still a deadly virus amongst us. And if we allow it, it will spread. It will spread like wildfire.”

Cases continue to mount in Ontario, with 460 confirmed cases reported on Sunday and 25 more deaths related to the virus. Close to half of province’s active cases are in the Toronto health region.

According to the city, thousands of people packed Trinity Bellwoods Park on one of the first warm days of the year, and numerous photos and video posted to social media showed the park-goers seemingly disregarding physical distancing requirements. 

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, was blunt in responding to the images of the public park gatherings, saying on Twitter Saturday: “... this could be selfish & dangerous behaviour that could set us back.”

Keeping one’s distance from others and regular hand-washing have been the top medical recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which bring symptoms that include fever, dry cough, and difficulty breathing. 

“You’re putting yourself, your parents, your grandparents, and your friends at risk. So, grow up,” Joe Cressy, a city councillor and chair of the Toronto Board of Health, said on CP24.

More than 700 people from Toronto have died to date due to COVID-19.

This week, the city reopened amenities in hundreds of parks. But it’s still illegal in the city to come within two metres of someone from a different household in parks and public squares. Violators of the bylaw could receive an immediate $1,000 ticket, though court fines that go up to $5,000 on conviction are also possible. 

“People are encouraged to go out, yes, but they must stay two metres apart from anyone who is not from their household. That is the science,” said the city in a news release on Saturday night, condemning the Trinity Bellwoods gatherings as “unacceptable.” 

On Saturday, city bylaw officers issued 14 tickets in parks, and cautioned gave warnings to more than 370 people. Four of those tickets were given out in Trinity Bellwoods Park, said the city.

Bylaw officers were out in much greater numbers in the park on Sunday, with many areas blocked off to access and picnic tables piled in a corner so no one could use them. 

Maija Kappler/HuffPost Canada
Trinity Bellwoods Park was much quieter on Sunday, May 24, 2020.

Toronto has created more programs to help provide space for people to get out safely, including shutting down major roads such as Lake Shore Boulevard to motorists so cyclists, pedestrians and runners can move around.

Both Tory and de Villa noted that most people were practising good physical distancing in other city locations on Saturday, but Trinity Bellwoods was undeniably overcrowded.

Despite Ontario being in the first phase of its reopening process, Ford has said that he and health officials are seeing “concerning” trends as daily cases and testing outputs continue to trend in worrisome directions.

With files from Maija Kapper, The Canadian Press, Yahoo News Canada