OTTAWA -- Ottawa residents can have a chat with their neighbour over the fence or enjoy a beer while sitting six feet apart at the end of the driveway during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both Mayor Jim Watson and Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches say it’s okay to socialize with the neighbours, as long as you are two metres apart.

The comments come one day after Ottawa’s Associate Medical Officer of Health said Ottawa Public Health had reports of people looking for “loopholes” to socialize despite calls for physical distancing.

Dr. Etches told reporters that Ottawa residents should still “stay home except to go out for essential reasons”, including getting groceries, prescriptions, helping family or friends or getting exercise.

“Can you talk with your neighbour over the fence or from a distance? Yes you can, as long as you’re maintaining the two metre distance from your neighbour you’re doing your part to reduce the transmission of COVID-19,” said Dr. Etches.

“We’re asking people to have those interactions at a distance, and to take care to avoid creating a gathering or leading to actions that could increase risk of transmission.”

On Tuesday, Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brent Moloughney said Ottawa Public Health is aware of people looking for “loopholes” so they can have a beer with the neighbour or visiting a friend while remaining six feet apart.

“Being it in your driveway or in your yard, our main message is stay home,” said Dr. Moloughney.

Dr. Etches notes Ontario’s Emergency Management and Protection Act bans gatherings of five or more people in public and private gatherings.

Mayor Watson insisted residents having a chat at a distance won’t result in a visit from Ottawa Bylaw officers.

“If you and your neighbour are having a beer or a lemonade, and you’re at the end of your driveway and six feet part, then enjoy!”

Ottawa Bylaw and Regulatory Services has issued 76 tickets to people violating the COVID-19 pandemic measures, including to people gathering in groups greater than five.

Emergency and Protective Services General Manager Anthony Di Monte says only three of the 76 tickets were issued for violations on private property.

“And they were all the result of parties and large gatherings,” said Di Monte.

“It’s not our intent to intervene if people are talking between driveways or between fences.”

Di Monte says if you have concerns about a gathering in your neighbourhood, you should contact 311.