BARRIE, ONT. -- Provincial police are encouraging residents to follow the provincial stay-at-home order or face hefty fines.

The organizer of a recurring protest against COVID-19 restrictions in Barrie was hit was an $800 fine after the rally drew about 300 people.

While police say they respect the right to protest, they add it's important to abide by the province's COVID-19 restrictions and public health guidelines.

Infections rates have surged across Ontario as the variants of concern become more of a threat. In Simcoe Muskoka, 96 per cent of cases this week so far have been identified as variants.

The OPP says demonstrators who aren't charged at the time of the rally could be charged later - once an investigation into the protest is complete.

Failing to follow an order could result in a $750 fine and potentially a $1,000 for preventing others from following an order.

Maximum fines for individuals are up to $100,000 and $10 million for a corporation, plus the possibility of prosecution or jail time.

In Barrie, bylaw officers say they have a hard time keeping up with all the calls to investigate public gatherings.

Provincial police say anyone who believes a gathering or business is not following the rules should report it to the police.

They remind the public to save calling 911 for emergency purposes only.