“Everybody’s doing their best,” said Mayor Paula Assaly. “I’m proud of the people of Hawkesbury.”
“Our community is responding very well,” said Mayor Normand Riopel of Champlain Township. “I appreciate every resident in my community for their efforts.”
The global pandemic situation has lasted several weeks now with the number of confirmed infections worldwide at the 2 million mark and continuing to slowly increase. Like many other countries, Canada declared a national health emergency and imposed strict controls, including closing the borders to nonessential travel, while at the same time approving a series of financial aid measures for individuals and businesses hit hard by the pandemic.
Ontario and other provincial and territorial governments have also made their own health emergency declarations, with mandatory shutdowns of nonessential businesses, non-essential constructions, along with closures of schools, public parks and other facilities and events to reduce the chance of COVID-19 contagion among the general public. Testing centres are set up now to confirm possible cases of COVID-19 and new measures taken to protect seniors in long-term care and retirement homes who are among the most vulnerable potential victims for the disease.
Recent reports from federal health authorities indicate the pace of the pandemic may be starting to slow down in Canada. But they also warn that the crisis is not over yet.
Social distancing and self-isolation is the rule now with penalties for individuals and businesses who ignore the rule. Both police and local bylaw officers now have authority to enforce the pandemic protection guidelines though both local mayors and Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, chief medical health officer for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU), noted that education and cooperation is the first rule of enforcement and penalties and punishment a last resort.
“We’re trying to educate people,” said Dr. Roumeliotis during an April 15 media teleconference, “rather than fine them.” Mayor Assaly noted that both local OPP and bylaw officers have copies of the EOHU’s emergency health crisis order in their vehicles to hand out to and individuals or business owners who are not following the pandemic protection plan. She explained that law enforcement has a three-step procedure for dealing with reports of social-distancing violations or nonessential businesses which are still open to the public.
First is checking into the situation, ask those involved what they are doing, and if they are aware of the emergency health order. Second is to determine if there is a valid reason for their action and, if not, to explain what they are doing wrong, provide them with a copy of emergency order, and then give them a chance to correct their behaviour.
The third step, Mayor Assaly said, is enforcement of the guidelines against individuals or business owners who are caught second time flouting the pandemic restriction guidelines. “There are people who will not or do not wish to abide by the rules,” Mayor Assaly said, adding that she has heard fewer complaints about social-distancing violations thanks to greater public awareness through health officials, law enforcement staff, and media about the pandemic prevention guidelines and why they exist.
“If each and every one of us do our part,” said Mayor Riopel, “we will keep that disease away.”
Ease the tension
Mayor Robert Kirby of East Hawkesbury noted that there is still « some tension” for people trying to do ordinary things like grocery shopping, and having to deal now with queuing up outside of stores, waiting for their turn to get inside. He suggested grocery store operators consider extended opening hours on some days to help ease the situation.
“It’s hard, yes,” said Mayor Stéphane Sarrazin of Alfred-Plantagenet Township. “It’s so easy to be lost in these directives. Bottom line, we need to respect the (social) distance. And we have to keep thinking positive and not panic.”