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Coronavirus: Waterloo Region, municipalities declare state of emergency

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The Region of Waterloo and its seven municipalities have each declared a state of emergency in response to the growing novel coronavirus pandemic.

Mayors for area cities (Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo) and townships (North Dumfries, Wellesley, Wilmot and Woolwich) joined Regional Chair Karen Redman in signing declarations on Wednesday morning.

READ MORE: Archived: Live updates on coronavirus in Canada

In a release, the region and municipalities say this will allow Redman and the mayors “to take actions or make orders to protect the inhabitants of the municipality and increases the ability of municipalities to share resources, personnel and equipment to respond and support the broader public sector and key services.”

Redman says the states of emergency will remain in place until they are lifted by the heads of government.

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“This stays in place until I as chair, revoke it for the region and it would be the same for the individual municipalities as well,” Redman said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: 26 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Waterloo Region

She said that move is quite open-ended in terms of the powers it grants to local leaders.

As an example, Redman said, “quite literally, we could enlist bylaw officers to go around and make sure that people are adhering to staying in their homes and practising physical distancing.

“People who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, are indeed self-isolating.”

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The regional chair explained that the order states ”such actions or orders that he or she considers necessary that are not contrary to the law and implement a regional emergency response plan.”

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READ MORE: 44% of Canadian households report lost work amid COVID-19 pandemic: poll

She says that part of the reason the community leaders chose to declare a state of emergency on Wednesday was in an attempt to make some people aware of how serious the pandemic is.

“I would tell you that part of this is getting the community’s attention so that everybody is taking the lead of public health and Dr. Wang in following her directions,” Redman explained.

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She said they are also trying to make travellers returning to Canada aware of how important it is to self-isolate.

“Quite honestly, this is quite a pivotal period of time in the next couple of weeks,” she said. “If we’re able to practice the directives, the social isolation and physical distancing, we can help flatten the curve at this is a crucial time when that behaviour will make an absolute difference over the long run.”

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Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said there were other practical reasons to invoke the states of emergency.

“While the province has made it absolutely clear that any decisions they’re making right now, they will include the funding for municipalities without having to declare an emergency in the event that that changes either with the province or the federal government,” he said. “This starts a clock ticking where we can also start looking at what some of those expenses are going to be that might potentially be eligible in the future for more funding.”

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Vrbanovic also said the move will allow more support for volunteers when they are called upon.

“As we move forward in the coming weeks, it’s going to become increasingly likely we’re going to need to be turning to more community volunteers,” the Kitchener mayor said. “It will do things like giving them WSIB coverage.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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