Update: Watson blasts province for including Ottawa in sweeping 28-day shutdown

Somerset Street
An unusually quiet Somerset Street, seen this spring during the first closure of non-essential businesses. (File photo by Peter Kovessy)
Editor's Note

This story was updated at 3:35 p.m. to include details from the City of Ottawa's press conference.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson slammed the provincial decision to include Ottawa in a province-wide shutdown of non-essential businesses for nearly a month, saying there are “no facts” to support such measures, which are likely to have a “devastating impact on our local economy.”

Watson made his remarks shortly after Premier Doug Ford said all of Ontario will enter a “province-wide shutdown” on Boxing Day as officials try to bring soaring COVID-19 cases under control.

The measures will remain in place for southern Ontario, including Ottawa, until Jan. 23, but will lift for northern Ontario on Jan. 9.

Watson said he’s asked provincial officials to reconsider the length of the shutdown in Ottawa “in recognition of our low numbers and positive trends.” His remarks were echoed by Ottawa’s medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, who said she was “disappointed” by the provincial announcement and that a two-week shutdown – similar to the rules for northern Ontario – would have been more appropriate.

Premier Doug Ford said the virus is spreading rapidly from areas with a high number of cases to areas with fewer cases, and the province needs to preserve capacity in its health-care system.

“This difficult action is without a doubt necessary to save lives and prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed in the coming weeks,” he said.

“Make no mistake, thousands of lives are at stake right now.”

In his press conference, Ford spoke directly to residents in Ottawa, which reported 31 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and has seen significantly fewer new cases in recent weeks than communities in the Greater Toronto Area.

“Quebec is shutting down, so areas like Ottawa – which has done a great job … at lowering (COVID-19 case) numbers – will be at tremendous risk over the holidays of people flooding in over the border if they were to stay open,” the premier said.

Ford also underscored the need for province-wide measures.

“We’ve seen that people are moving from region to region, and bringing COVID with them,” he said.

Those arguments didn’t fly with Watson, who said he's seen no evidence that Quebec residents were "flooding" into Ottawa and said he was “completely blindsided” by today’s announcement.

“The province sets the rules, we follow them. And then they move the goalposts. We follow the new rules and then they change them again,” he said. “Businesses have played a key role in our fight against COVID-19. And once again, they are being treated like they are a leading source of transmission, which they are not.”

New supports for business

The provincial government also announced Monday that a new Ontario Small Business Support Grant would provide a minimum of $10,000 and up to $20,000 to help eligible small business owners during the province-wide lockdown. The announcement was quickly “welcomed” by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

The shutdown means schools across the province will move to online learning from Jan. 4 to Jan. 8, after which students will return to in-person learning depending on their location and grade level.

Child-care centres across the province will remain open during the lockdown.

The measures also mean all non-essential businesses must close, and essential businesses that remain open will have strict capacity limits in place.

No indoor public events or social gatherings will be allowed, except with members of the same household.

The shutdown also means Ontarians are advised to stay home “to the fullest extent possible.”

The announcement of the sweeping measures came hours after new projections indicated that Ontario's ability to control the spread of COVID-19 was “precarious.”

The data by the province's health advisors concluded that tough measures lasting a month or more could cut the number of daily cases to less than 1,000.

Ontario reported 2,123 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and 17 more deaths related to the virus.

Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the province's COVID-19 science advisory table, said anything less than a four-week shutdown will not work, based on the experience of other jurisdictions.

“Hard lockdown, a very stringent lockdown, with very strong communication, of four to six weeks can reduce case numbers in Ontario,” he said. “The duration of lockdown is very important.”

Brown said that if Ontario's COVID-19 case rate continues to grow between one to three per cent, the province will have 3,000 to 5,000 daily cases by the end of January.

If the province sees “substantial growth” of seven per cent, Ontario will have 30,000 daily cases.

The new projections show that under all scenarios the province will see 300 intensive care unit beds filled within 10 days – double the 150-bed threshold where surgeries must be cancelled.

Under a worst-case-scenario, ICU occupancy could hit 1,500 beds by mid-January.

The data also shows that deaths due to COVID-19 will continue to increase, especially in long-term care where there have been 633 resident deaths since Sept. 1, and 100 over the past week.

– With reporting by the Canadian Press