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Coronavirus: Peel Region officials advise against large gatherings during Diwali

Click to play video 'Dispelling the darkness of 2020 with the light of Diwali' Dispelling the darkness of 2020 with the light of Diwali
WATCH ABOVE: After a difficult year for many, those celebrating Diwali says it’s time to get rid of the darkness of 2020 with the five-day festival of light. And while celebrations are scaled back this year, people are finding creative ways to mark the occasion. Miranda Anthistle has the details – Nov 13, 2020

BRAMPTON, Ont. – Officials in Peel Region are asking residents to avoid large gatherings during Diwali celebrations this weekend.

Dr. Lawrence Loh, the region’s medical officer of health, told The Canadian Press on Friday that there aren’t any public health concerns with Diwali itself, instead he said he was worried about large gatherings that people may have to celebrate the holiday.

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.”

Read more: Here’s how Toronto, Peel Region will enforce new ‘red-level’ social gathering rules

“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 Loh.

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Peel Region announced 440 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, almost a third of Ontario’s total daily case count. Toronto, which neighbours Peel, also had 440 new cases of the virus.

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Brampton, Ont. Mayor Patrick Brown said during a press conference Thursday that Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas, which will be celebrated largely by South Asian and Hindu communities on Saturday, is an event he’s “got a lot of concern over.”

“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.”

Read more: Hamilton, Halton and York entering red level as Ontario lowers COVID-19 restrictions threshold

Brown said the region saw a spike of cases related to Thanksgiving and is beginning to see a spike of cases linked to Halloween, causing concerns over Diwali celebrations.

A Statistics Canada census of the region found that South Asians account for more than half of Brampton’s population. The community also accounts for about 40 per cent of the population in neighbouring Mississauga, Ont.

In a joint statement, mayors of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area urged residents celebrating Diwali to avoid gathering with people they don’t live with and invite others to join virtually.

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“This engagement is important given the large number of people in the GTHA who celebrate Diwali and the fact that like Easter and Thanksgiving, family and community gatherings are a popular feature of the celebrations, something we are discouraging for this pandemic year,” the statement read.

Toronto Mayor John Tory tweeted Friday that the city is asking people to stay home and celebrate the event with others virtually.

Loh 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,” he said.