Ontario still considering COVID-19 curfew

Ontario still considering COVID-19 curfew-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
A person in a mask looks down a sidewalk in Ottawa the night of Nov. 22, 2020. Up until now in the Ottawa-Gatineau area, curfews have only been used by First Nations governments. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

With their Quebec neighbours soon to be under an 8 p.m. curfew to rein in the spread of COVID-19, Ontarians are waiting to see if they might also soon be forced to stay home.

Ontario has been having a “significant week” — in a bad way — according to chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams.

The province has broken single-day records for new cases and deaths, hospitalizations are the highest seen during this pandemic and up to 9.8 per cent of COVID-19 tests are coming back positive, he said.

The trends are worrying, but Dr. Williams did not state his position during a Thursday news conference about whether Ontario should follow Quebec’s lead and impose a curfew.

He said the term can mean different things in different places and curfews can be hard to enforce.

Still, it’s one of the tools provincial officials are considering, he said.

David Williams-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Ontario’s medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, described how all COVID-19 trends have been moving the wrong way since the Dec. 26 shutdown was announced. He said a curfew, as Quebec has imposed, is a tool they are considering, although curfews come with legal and enforcement challenges. (CBC)

Pandemic circumstances are moving at “the pace of lightning,” Premier Doug Ford had said Wednesday.

He was asked about a curfew and indicated he would make a decision on any rule changes within days, taking his direction from Williams. He later added he’d be speaking with Quebec Premier François Legault.

Ford has scheduled an update for 10 a.m. ET Friday.

Starting Saturday, Quebecers will have to be inside between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m., with a limited number of exceptions. Police will be able to stop, question and fine people outside if they don’t have a valid reason.

Legault said the curfew, which is a first for a Canadian province during the pandemic, would be a form of “shock therapy” required to bring the number of hospitalizations back down.

Other tools preferred

Officials in Ottawa are waiting to see what decision Ontario makes.

Ottawa’s medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, said this week that restrictions on people’s movements in the Gatineau, Que., area could help reduce transmission in Ottawa because the cities are so connected.

People need to limit their movements for the lockdown in Ottawa to be as effective as possible, she told CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning.

Discussions about methods to quickly lower case counts are important, Etches said, though “not necessarily the curfew.”

Portage bridge-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Ottawa’s neighbours in Quebec will be under a curfew starting Saturday. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Ottawa Public Health prefers telling people what they can do and informing them of risks, rather than telling people what they can’t do, agreed her board chair Coun. Keith Egli.

Ottawa’s bylaw department has found it more effective to educate and warn people than to ticket them, he added.

“We’re asking a lot of people right now and I think people, for the most part, are doing their best,” said Egli.

“To me a curfew is one of those things — if you’re going to go to it — is a tool right at the bottom of your box.”

East of Ottawa, the town of Hawkesbury, Ont., is also intertwined with its neighbour of Grenville, Que.

Hawkesbury Mayor Paula Assaly can understand why Quebec has imposed the curfew given the threat it sees.

She said the Ford government could “wait and see” if Quebec’s curfew works and possibly look at regional curfews in this province.

“If things get worse, I think [Ontario] might just go for a little bit more drastic measures,” she said.


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