Families in Ontario can now expand the number of people they have close contact with to 10, as the province moved Friday to further loosen public health restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Premier Doug Ford unveiled the new advice on “social circles” from the province’s chief medical officer of health on the same day new rules expanding group gatherings and reopening business in some parts of the province came into effect.
The new guidelines from Dr. David Williams mean physical distancing does not need to be practised between members of the same circle.
Ford said if a household has fewer than 10 people they can add to their circle, but a person can only be part of one group.
“We know there are friends, family, and loved ones you haven’t been able to hug or come in close contact with in months,” Ford said. “And today, the public health guidelines will be changing to introduce social circles.”
The new guidelines on social circles come into effect immediately and apply across the province, but people in a group are advised to continue to maintain physical distancing with anyone outside of their circle.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the concept will help families with child- and elder-care needs, and reduce social isolation during the pandemic.
“We know that there have been many people who have been suffering from social isolation and we’re seeing many more cases of mental health needs,” she said. “The social circle should certainly help (but) that’s not going to take all of those issues away.”
The government said people at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 may not want to participate.
Ford stressed the new social circle advice is just that, and will not be enforced.
“The social circle police aren’t going to be knocking on your door. We trust you’re going to be doing the right thing,” he said.
Ontario Guidelines on Social Circles of 10
Social gatherings can be any 10 people from outside your household, but where physical distancing of at least two metres should be maintained. For example, the expansion of social gatherings enables individuals and families to enjoy the company of others at backyard barbeques and picnics in neighbourhood parks, while respecting physical distancing advice.
Close contact with members of their circle is allowed. This could include hugging, carpooling, enjoying a patio and sharing a meal without staying two metres apart. Ontarians should avoid close-contact activities with anyone outside of their circle if they are unable to maintain physical distancing. Social circles will also bring back supports from people outside of their household who can now help with children, seniors or those in need.
Ontarians who wish to form a safe social circle should follow these five simple steps:
- Start with your current circle: the people you live with or who regularly come into your household;
- If your current circle is under 10 people, you can add members to your circle, including those from another household, family members or friends;
- Get agreement from everyone that they will join the circle;
- Keep your social circle safe. Maintain physical distancing with anyone outside of your circle; and
- Be true to your circle. No one should be part of more than one circle.
While physical distancing does not need to be practised between members of the same social circle, other public health advice, including frequent hand washing, should be maintained. Anyone who is ill or feeling sick should immediately limit their contact with anyone in their circle, inform the other members of the circle, self-isolate, and seek testing if they have COVID-19 symptoms, by visiting one of the 145 assessment centres across Ontario.
— With Files From The Canadian Press