Ontario Health Coalition pumps brakes on northern bubble
SAULT STE. MARIE -- With growing discussion on implementing a travel bubble in northern Ontario, the province's health coalition said not so fast.
The Ontario Health Coalition held a press conference Feb. 8, in which its northern members weighed in on the possibility of the north closing itself off from southern Ontario residents, where positive COVID-19 cases are significantly higher.
"That's a difficult situation to police, there's some major highways going into the north," said Jules Tupker, the co-chair of the Thunder Bay health coalition. "We think that we're better off just basically avoiding the bubble at this point."
On Monday, the Ford government announced its plan to begin reopening segments of the province's economy, with three health units transitioning to the least-restrictive green stage of Ontario's colour-coded framework on Wednesday.
The rest of the province is expected to move to the restrictions system next week, with the exception of three hot spots in the GTA.
"The decision to do this at this time is a confusing one," said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition. "Just because the provincial government has announced the reopening of the province, does not mean that the public should begin to travel freely and potentially spread."
Mehra points to the rise in the new and stronger U.K. variant of COVID-19 in the province, which has even made its way into smaller northern communities.
Health Units in Sudbury, North Bay and Timmins have also confirmed the variant in recent positive tests.
"There would need to be a very clear message about stopping inter-regional travel in the March break," Mehra said. "We think at this time, that stronger messaging is most needed."
The group said a report published by the British Medical Association Journal stated the new variant is 40 to 70 per cent more infectious and could even lead to a third lockdown if the province doesn't act quick enough.
It comes as shipments of vaccines continue to be delayed into the country.
"There's certainly been enough time where I'm hopeful they have a proper plan for these vaccines," said Marie DellaVedova of the Algoma Health Coalition. "Hopefully the ministry of health has been working on that, in conjunction with all the different public health units, because we do need a coordinated plan that can be rolled out right away."
Despite not believing in a northern bubble, the group is calling for more enforcement and tighter restrictions as Ontario faces this new strain.