Ontario provincial officials limp through COVID-19 press conference - Muskoka Post

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Agatha Farmer

During a March 16 news conference intended to introduce COVID-19 employment measures and legislation Ontario government officials were asked questions ranging from closing borders to how the government has managed this dynamically moving situation to date.

While some questions were answered, it was clear that others brought on further confusion.

Asked about border closures Premier Doug Ford said he is “ok" with closing borders to visitors but not commerce and trade.

"We are doing a billion dollars a day in trade, we have to keep the supply chain moving but that is a call for the federal government to make not the province but we would support that if they were to do that ... keep in mind this doesn't mean closing the borders to Canadian citizens."

While Ford addressed border closings a reporter asked about Canada's snowbirds who generally return during the spring months. Ontario's chief medical officer David Williams said the government is awaiting further clarification on the issue.

"It's a good question and we are trying to get some direction from the federal government, we are waiting for some announcements ... this is as you know is a large contingency and we are seeing the number of Ontarian's coming back in increasing numbers. Unfortunately a number of them after a few days have been found to be positive from different parts of the USA. We are not really clear exactly what the status of each of the states and other places where snowbirds might be coming from. We are waiting for further information from the public health agency of Canada as well as the CDC to give us some guidance on a comprehensive screening and management process,” he said.

In a March 15 open letter University of Toronto's infectious diseases specialists and doctors alike urged all levels of government to optimize social distancing and to close all non-essential settings including malls, movie theatres, non-essential health care as well as stores which sell non-essential items.

"We know you share our sense of urgency, and the time to act is now. We strongly believe this is the best chance to save the public from the worst effects of COVID-19. Please take definitive action- there is no time to waste," they wrote.

However, since at this point Ontario has not closed non-essential businesses such as restaurants and bars a reporter noted that tomorrow Tuesday March. 17 is St. Patrick's Day and asked if people gathering at bars at this time is a good idea.

Minister of Health Christine Elliott said the government is "recommending people be very cautious about that. Make your own judgement and if you have any concerns of course be in touch with your local public health unit if you are holding an event, but certainly we would discourage people from going into large gatherings tomorrow as on any other day."

She noted that all bars, restaurants and non-essential businesses would close during a state of emergency which the province is not yet ready to declare.

"If we have to do that and that is something that is always being discussed we will do that, but we don't believe we are at that stage yet but this is a rapidly changing situation," said Elliott.

Hydro relief is also being discussed as are off peak hydro rates but no further information regarding rates was provided.

Ford said that he has been in communication with the Minister of Energy since last week to "make sure that we have fair and sustainable hydro rates for the people and businesses of Ontario."

For the latest on public health measures in Ontario visit https://www.ontario.ca/page/2019-novel-coronavirus.

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