Ontario Premier Doug Ford swung back at Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson on Tuesday as the two leaders battle over impending provincewide lockdowns set to begin on Saturday.
Ford’s announcement on Monday that Ottawa would be included in a 28-day lockdown aimed at stemming the spread of the novel coronavirus in Ontario struck the wrong chord with Watson and the city’s top doctor, Vera Etches, who later that day said they do not support locking down the nation’s capital.
Coronavirus infection rates have stabilized in Ottawa since the city entered another month-long lockdown in October, with the local public health unit reporting 16 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday.
There are currently 20 people in hospital with COVID-19 in Ottawa, none of whom are in the intensive care unit, as ICUs across the province reach their capacities.
Watson said the city’s businesses and residents were “blindsided” by the lockdown announcement and said there was “no evidence” to support Ford’s claims that leaving Ottawa out of the shutdown would promote travel from other regions of the province and from across the river in Gatineau, Que.
Ford, who prefaced his comments Tuesday by saying he has a “great deal of respect” for both Watson and Etches, said getting into arguments over restrictions is not what matters in the province’s COVID-19 response.
“Honestly, in my opinion, I think there’s a little bit of politics going on. I don’t care about politics. I am here to protect people’s lives,” he said.
“Now is not the time to ignore the advice of our health experts.”
Etches has long advocated for a balanced approach to the pandemic that weighs the benefits of closing schools and businesses with the impacts on resident’s mental, physical and financial well-being.
“In a shutdown, we lose balance,” she said on Monday.
In defending his decision on Tuesday, Ford pointed to rising levels of COVID-19 in Ottawa’s wastewater tracking system as cause for concern in the city. The seven-day average of viral signal in the city has been on the rise since the start of December, according to researchers monitoring Ottawa’s sewage data.
Ford also said rising cases in Ottawa’s long-term care facilities is an indicator that’s causing concern, but Ottawa Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard shows long-term care outbreaks do not appear to be on the rise. There are currently six ongoing outbreaks in long-term care homes with no new outbreaks added on Tuesday.
Watson and Etches said they are hopeful Ontario will reduce the lockdown in Ottawa to 14 days, in line with northern Ontario. Nepean MPP Lisa MacLeod said Tuesday on Twitter that restrictions for communities including Ottawa will be reassessed two weeks into the lockdown.
Ford indicated Tuesday he was comfortable taking a wait-and-see approach.
“We’re going to continue to monitor the shutdown measures. I’d love nothing more than to ease them,” he said Tuesday.
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