TORONTO — Ontario’s premier said he won’t order provincial beaches to close even as several municipalities grapple with crowds flocking to their shores amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Doug Ford instead urged Ontario residents Friday to employ “common sense” when visiting the province’s beaches.
“If you go to a packed beach, find another place,” he said. “I wouldn’t go to a jam packed beach.”
The premier’s comments came a day after Wasaga Beach announced it would restrict access to its popular beach in light of the “overwhelming number of people” who travelled there and flouted physical distancing rules in recent days.
“The complete disregard for physical distancing at the beachfront on Canada Day and during the last two weekends in June was totally unacceptable,” Mayor Nina Bifolchi said in a statement Thursday.
“People know what the rules are and yet they clearly ignored them all for the sake of a day at the beach. I was appalled by what I witnessed and we are taking steps today to control what we can.”
The sand-covered stretch of Beach Drive, which belongs to the municipality, will be closed by next Thursday and half of the beachfront parking spaces are being scrapped, she said.
But Bifolchi said local officials don’t have the authority to shut down the beach that is part of Wasaga Beach Provincial Park.
She accused the government of mismanaging the park as it loosened restrictions related to the pandemic.
“Our community has worked so hard during the pandemic to follow the rules and our residents are worried these vast numbers of people descending on the beachfront put our town and our province at significant risk of a COVID-19 spike,” Bifolchi said.
Meanwhile, a popular southwestern Ontario beach reopened Friday after closing last week, largely due to overcrowding.
South Bruce Peninsula, which includes Sauble Beach, tentatively opened its lakefront in early June for “walk-through access” but reversed course after the beaches were “overwhelmed with many who did not adhere to the restrictions or provincial COVID guidelines,” said Mayor Janice Jackson.
The second reopening attempt will come with enforcement on weekends and weekly assessments of compliance, she said in a statement.
In Toronto, where large crowds on beaches have also raised public health concerns in recent weeks, Mayor John Tory said there are no plans to limit attendance on the waterfront.
Tory told the local television station CP24 on Friday that he expects residents to practise “common sense” and avoid “large crowd scenes.”
One public health expert said people need to be reminded that the virus will remain present until a vaccine is ready.
Tim Sly, a professor at Toronto’s Ryerson University and expert on pandemics, said the numbers of COVID-19 cases will spike this summer if this behaviour pattern persists.
“It’s a selfish attitude,” he said. “People did conform and comply at the beginning stages and we don’t want to undo all of that.”