Coalition wants tighter restrictions to prevent inter-provincial travel
Posted: February 11, 2021
(February 10, 2021)
By: Elaine Della-Mattia, Timmins Daily Press
The Northern Ontario Health Care Coalition is urging Ontarians to stay in their own regions as the March break nears and the province begins to reopen.
Representatives from the grassroots organization hosted a press conference Wednesday urging Ontarians to stay at home even as the province begins to roll out its reopening.
“We were shocked that the province announced its reopening measures without identifying any more or new public health measures,” said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Association.
While suggestions have been made to implement a Northern Ontario bubble to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – and especially the newer deadlier variants – the Northern Ontario Health Care Coalition is not advocating for a bubble at this time.
Mehra said that a unified approach on how that would work or how effective it would be, could not be reached among the Northern Ontario chapters of the group.
Instead, the Northern Ontario Health Care Coalition wants to see the province issue a clear message dissuading inter-provincial travel, especially as the March break nears.
The province has yet to formally announce whether the March break will take place as scheduled, or be delayed until at least April.
And if there is to be a March break, it’s even more important to urge the provincial government to implement measures that further limit numbers of people inside buildings, prevent large gatherings, enforce cleaning and sanitation regulations and issue fines for those who don’t adhere to the provincial measures, Mehra said.
“We need clearer direction around inter-provincial travel, and clearer messages on masking, especially to reduce the spread of the variants,” she said.
The group argues that during both the first and second wave of the pandemic saw a number of COVID-19 cases traced to travel, either people travelling out and back to the region or people and travelling into the region, visiting family and friends, and spreading the virus.
Nearly all the Northern Ontario chapters of the group saw a marked increase in COVID-19 numbers over the Christmas holiday season, when travel and larger gatherings were held.
With increasing numbers of COVID variants appearing across areas of the province, including in some parts of Northern Ontario, the coalition wants travel to cease to prevent that wave of the infection from spreading into Northern Ontario.
“So far, we have controlled COVID-19 largely in the northern region although we did see a worse second wave,” Mehra said. “Many of those cases have been associated with travel in and out of the region. We want to make sure our communities can manage their risk,” she said.
Marie DellaVedova, spokesperson for the Sault Ste. Marie area, said “if we stop moving, the virus stops moving. I know it’s been a long year, but we’ve been doing well and we can’t let our guard down.”
DellaVedova said that Sault Ste. Marie and the area within the Algoma Health Unit was able to stay in the ‘green zone’ up until the holiday season when numbers spiked. Since then, it hasn’t returned to that zone.
“We haven’t seen the variant yet here but we know it is on our doorstep,” she said.
The Northern Ontario Health Care Coalition advocates argue that the province’s reopening plan does not mean Ontarians should travel outside of the region they live.
“In fact, this reopening makes it worse because there haven’t been new measures announced that encourage people to stay in the regions and closer to home,” she said.
The coalition is also advocating for the provincial government to speed up the roll out of doses of the vaccine as it receives them fro the federal government.
The federal government has said that everyone who wants the vaccine will receive it by September, despite repeated shortages in recent weeks in expected doses Canada was to receive.
Earlier this month it was reported that Sudbury Mayor Brian Biggar is calling on the provincial government to create a Northern Ontario ‘bubble’ to protect Northerners from COVID-19 and its new, deadlier variants.
Brian Bigger is lobbying the province to explore options to reduce travel to and from the region, namely establishing OPP checkpoints along highway 69 to monitor travel, similar to what Quebec had implemented last fall. He hopes that it will deter traffic between regions.
He’s supported in his lobby efforts by former Sudbury mayor and MPP Jim Gordon, who argues that the North has a higher proportion of seniors and Indigenous people than the rest of Ontario and as such, should be greater protected.
The Ontario Health Care Coalition’s mandate is protect and improve the province’s health care system and lobby on public policy issues related to health care programs and services.