Peel officials forbid social gatherings ahead of festive Diwali weekend as record surge in COVID-19 cases pushes region toward ‘precipice’

·3 min read

In the wake of record daily COVID-19 infections, Peel Region officials and resident advocates are pleading for people to avoid gatherings outside of their immediate household during this weekend’s Diwali celebrations.

Local politicians and the region’s chief medical official have spent the past few days warning residents of the dire straits facing the region, which is racking up the highest number of daily cases seen since the start of the pandemic, if its residents aren’t vigilant about abiding by restrictions. These include keeping social gatherings to immediate households and only going out for essential reasons.

Peel reported a record 466 cases on Tuesday.

“Regrettably, that does mean celebrating Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas only with the people you live with and connecting virtually, even with other family members, if they live at another address,” said Peel’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Lawrence Loh, during a press conference in Brampton Thursday.

Loh, who confirmed household transmission of the virus has long fuelled the region’s local epidemic, continuing to hammer home that point Thursday, saying the region is at a precipice where “contract-tracing is becoming increasingly fraught,” and hospitals are bursting at the seams.

Loh cautioned residents to avoid all gatherings outside the immediate household for the next two to four weeks.

Diwali, the festival of lights, which celebrates the victory of good over evil or the triumph of light over darkness, is marked by the sharing of boxes of delectable sweets to those who celebrate it. The main festival is Saturday.

It will be a bitter-sweet occasion this year for “one of the biggest events in the Indo-Canadian community,” said Jotvinder Sodhi of the Homeowners Welfare Association and Concerned Residents of Brampton, who added that he will be marking the festivities at home.

“We won’t be sharing with others, even relatives (or) friends because we have to abide by public health rules to get this virus under control in Peel,” Sodhi said. “We’re going to connect with our friends through social media.”

He has encouraged folks to avoid traditional gatherings at local temples and fireworks events.

“You can pray at home,” said Sodhi, who added that, if they go to the Sikh temple, his family will pray from the confines of their vehicle.

The holiday originates in India and is mostly a Hindu celebration, but those in the Sikh and Jain communities also observe it, as well as non-religious people throughout South Asia, where it’s a national holiday in many countries.

Brampton’s mayor Patrick Brown said he has a “lot of concern over” the potential of large gatherings during Diwali, as the city grapples with a surge in cases after Thanksgiving and Halloween.

“It’s a moment of joy and celebration, but, this year, we’re pleading with everyone to make sure that we only have these celebrations within the confines of our own homes,” he said.

“The situation is too precarious right now.”

He said even though compliance has improved significantly since some of the big bashes seen in Brampton this summer, bylaw enforcement officers will be looking out for rule-breakers this weekend.

In the past week, there were only two social gatherings that resulted in fines, compared to a time “in the summer when we were dealing with, literally, 100 social gatherings in a week,” Brown said.

Mayor Bonnie Crombie, of Mississauga, echoed the plea, saying the “sobering reality is that Peel Region is in a very dire situation.

“The virus has been fully unleashed in our community.”

Ontario soared to 1,575 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, setting the fifth record in six days, with Toronto and Peel leading the way with 472 and 448 cases, respectively.

To date, Peel has recorded 18,649 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases, with Brampton accounting for 11,447 of those. Brampton has accounted for 99 of the 339 deaths in Peel Region.

Just more than 15,600 of the region’s cases have since recovered, according to the Peel Region dashboard.

Jason Miller, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Toronto Star