Cochrane residents worry snowmobile tourists endangering community during lockdown
Residents in Cochrane are concerned by the number of snowmobilers travelling to the community during the second COVID-19 lockdown. (Photo from video)
TIMMINS -- Residents of Cochrane are concerned by the number of snowmobilers travelling to the community during the second COVID-19 lockdown.
With trails cleared to operate over the next two weeks, and some of the only ones currently open for the season located in the community, local motels have been filling up with tourists from other parts of the province.
That's alarming to Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus, who's been receiving a number of complaints from locals worried travellers are not following COVID-19 guidelines. He came across a video posted online by an apparent visitor making light of the virus.
"We're not naïve about sledding, people love it … but I've got constituents saying there's some behaviours that are just not right," Angus said. "People being reckless, people maybe having parties. We're in a lockdown, so … we can't have a few bad apples, who are not following the rules, ruining it for everybody."
Residents have voiced concerns on social media, with some worried that while snowmobiling is considered COVID-safe, travellers may spread the virus through social gatherings and accessing essential businesses.
Public health authorities have recommended people not travel between communities for non-essential reasons. If people do travel, advice has been to self-monitor and follow pandemic guidelines.
Among the travelling snowmobilers is Hartley Tuplin from Collingwood, who made his first trip to Cochrane with a group to test out the open trails. He said his troop have been following COVID-19 precautions as best they can.
"We're not really interacting with anybody," Tuplin said. "We're social distancing, wearing masks whenever we go into gas stations, little spots where you can get to-go food or whatever."
Some community members are calling for the trails to be closed, for motels (which are deemed essential) to not take their business and for police to stop travellers from entering the community.
Angus said the focus should instead be on making sure snowmobilers behave responsibly while they are in town.
On that front, he said he's been speaking with the Porcupine Health Unit and the OPP to make sure provincial bans on indoor social gatherings and more than 10-person outdoor gatherings, plus Cochrane's mask-wearing bylaw, are enforced.
A spokesperson for the North East Region OPP said officers will be on alert and will respond to public complaints of COVID-19 violations as necessary.
'Be very careful and respectful'
"When people come in (to our communities), they need to be very careful and respectful of the people in the north, and northerners have to also know that the trails are open," Angus said.
For Tuplin's part, he said his group is not trying to cause a commotion in the area and intend to be respectful during their stay.
"We're not violating any guidelines or anything, everyone's being safe," Tuplin said. "We're just having a good time snowmobiling."