Peel Region, Toronto officials advise against large gatherings during Diwali

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BRAMPTON, Ont. — Officials are urging residents of Peel Region and surrounding areas to opt for more low-key Diwali celebrations this year rather than getting together in large groups in light of soaring cases of COVID-19. 

Peel saw a spike in COVID-19 cases after Thanksgiving and is starting to see a jump it attributes to Halloween celebrations, they said, raising concerns about the consequences if people gather for Diwali.  

"Diwali needs to look a little bit different this year, as with many other holidays that have occurred throughout 2020 in our community, which I know was certainly challenging, but we're really grateful," said Dr. Lawrence Loh, the medical officer of health for the region.

Loh said Peel residents should limit any close contacts to people they live with and only meet anyone outside of their household for "the most essential reasons." 

He said some families have shared plans to have virtual get-togethers or send video cards or messages during Diwali, instead of their usual celebrations.

"Dropping off food, all those other things. Those are ways that you could still provide some expressions of celebration of the season," Loh said.

The region announced 440 new COVID-19 cases on Friday -- almost a third of Ontario's total daily case count. Toronto also had 440 new cases of the virus.

Patrick Brown, the mayor of Brampton, Ont., which is in Peel region, said he's "got a lot of concern" about both Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas, which are largely celebrated by South Asian and other Hindu communities. 

"This is a large event that usually causes families to celebrate. It's a moment of joy and celebration," said Brown.

"But this year, we're pleading with everyone to make sure that we only have the celebrations within the confines of our own homes."

More than half of Brampton is South Asian, according to Statistics Canada. So is 40 per cent of the population in neighbouring Mississauga, Ont. 

The City of Toronto is also advising against large indoor gatherings during the holiday.

In a joint statement, mayors of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area suggested gathering virtually, rather than in-person. 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford echoed other officials' advice about celebrating Diwali virtually this year.

"To all those celebrating Diwali this year, I know it won't be like last (year's), but that doesn't mean it can't still be special," Ford said Friday during his daily media briefing.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 13, 2020.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Denise Paglinawan, The Canadian Press