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Coronavirus: London, Ont., councillors enact mask bylaw, exclude certain religious ceremonies

A shopper wears a mask as she pushes her grocery cart in the rain Thursday, June 25, 2020, in Houston. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that the state is facing a "massive outbreak" in the coronavirus pandemic and that some new local restrictions may be needed to protect hospital space for new patients.
A shopper wears a mask as she pushes her grocery cart in the rain Thursday, June 25, 2020, in Houston. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that the state is facing a "massive outbreak" in the coronavirus pandemic and that some new local restrictions may be needed to protect hospital space for new patients. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

London city councillors voted 12-1 Tuesday night to enact a mandatory mask bylaw that will require anyone entering any public establishment to wear a face mask or face covering, which covers the nose, mouth and chin.

The bylaw was first brought forward at Monday night’s Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee meeting after a discussion with London’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Chris Mackie, who encouraged councillors to take action.

All councillors, except Ward 1 councillor Michael van Holst, voted in favour of bringing the bylaw before council.

Read more: Coronavirus: Mandatory mask bylaw gains support of London city councillors

Van Holst was the only councillor to vote “no” once again on Tuesday night as councillors passed the bylaw.

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He argued reasons for his refusal to vote “yes,” which included London-Middlesex’s Stage 3 status, suggesting a mandatory mask bylaw could violate freedom.

“We’re a free country in Canada. Our national anthem says, ‘God keep our land glorious and free.’ I think as a result of this, we may be a little bit less free (and) glorious,” said van Holst.

Ward 2 councillor Shawn Lewis was absent due to a passing in the family, and Ward 11 councillor Stephen Turner cannot vote due to his employment with the Middlesex-London Health Unit.

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Most councillors supported the bylaw, including Ward 8 councillor Steve Lehman.

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“We’ve made great process in this battle, but the fight is not over,” said Lehman.

“We’ve come (too) far to risk slipping back to Stage 1, which would have severe economic and health consequences.”

“If this bylaw helps to prevent the death of one person, [this] will be more than worth it,” added Ward 10 councillor Paul Van Meerbergen.

Read more: Face coverings mandated in enclosed indoor public spaces as of Saturday: Dr. Chris Mackie

The mandatory mask bylaw excludes children under 12 years of age, as well as people with medical conditions or disabilities which inhibits their ability to wear a face-covering.

Those unable to apply or remove a face covering on their own are also exempt from the new rule.

The health unit had said there’s “no requirement for anyone to provide proof of exemption.”

Click to play video 'Face masks now mandatory in Peel and Durham indoor Public spaces' Face masks now mandatory in Peel and Durham indoor Public spaces
Face masks now mandatory in Peel and Durham indoor Public spaces

Councillors also added a new exemption at Tuesday night’s meeting.

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Mayor Ed Holder said the Diocese of London requested for council to approve a bylaw that would allow “celebrants and attendees at religious services (such as) priests, (to) remove their masks for the purposes of reading prayers (and) rituals that require an uncovered mouth to fully observe the requirements of the ceremony. Physical distancing must be maintained.”

Councillors voted “yes” unanimously.

Read more: Middlesex-London Health Unit mandates masks for transit riders, some businesses

The mandatory mask bylaw comes with a hefty fine ranging from $500 to $100,000.

City staff must report back to council every 60 days to review the bylaw to ensure its updated with the current situation surrounding COVID-19.

On Monday, masks also became mandatory on public transit, two days after the rules for indoor public spaces took effect.

— With files from 980 CFPL’s Sawyer Bodgan

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