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Northerners were hit worse by the pandemic than rest of Ontario, study finds

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Northern Ontario was disproportionately affected by the pandemic, according to the Northern Policy Institute (NPI).

The institute's latest report says while the region bounced back from the first wave of COVID-19 lockdowns, northerners were hit worse as the crisis progressed.

"What we found, though, is that throughout 2021, the economy in northern Ontario hadn't recovered to pre-pandemic levels, whereas Southern Ontario had," said Martin Lefebvre, a senior researcher at NPI.

"Basically the two regions acted as separate regions."

Even though the north has unique circumstances that affect how it experiences financial and public health emergencies, Queen's Park's early emergency measures were imposed province-wide.

Lefebvre said that put this region at a disadvantage, since many northern communities didn't see surges in COVID-19 cases until many months into the pandemic.

Unemployment also spiked later in the pandemic, with the financial impact hitting this region harder due to its lower income demographic, he said.

Given how different life is in the north, the Timmins Chamber of Commerce's senior policy analyst, Cameron Grant, echoed calls from the NPI for more regional and data-based approaches to these situations in future emergencies.

"It all goes back to the ways in which politicians and legislators are going to be looking at future pandemic-related shutdowns," Grant said.

"Are they regionally-based and are they supported and backed by health data numbers within those regions?"

The NPI's report assessed the impacts of the pandemic on Sudbury, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay. Timmins, however, wasn't included in the report, due to a lack of data.

Though Grant said the damage to local businesses has been clear to see.

He said the province's largest mistakes over the last two years were being too slow to offer relief money to offset the financial hit of lockdowns; not delivering it to them as soon as those lockdowns occurred-and having poor communication with businesses about its emergency plan.

It left people in unnecessary anxiety and uncertainty, he said

"Having those policies in place and templates that can help businesses understand what they need to do in times of lockdown and emergency pandemic preparedness, is going to be heavily supportive for their future and ongoing viability," Grant said.

The Northern Policy Institute said the provincial government also needs to put more power in the hands of those who understand the north and how these situations affect local residents and businesses.

It thinks letting the region make its own decisions would be the best way to manage a future crisis.

"It would be economically less damaging to tailor a policy for northern Ontario, compared to a blanket approach," said Lefebvre.

The full paper from the Northern Policy Institute can be found on their webstie.

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