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Hamilton, Ont., city staff to begin framework for relaxing coronavirus restrictions: mayor

Hamilton's EOC director, Paul Johnson, mayor Fred Eisenberger and Dr. Elizabeth Richardson during a March 2020 press conference on COVID-19.
Hamilton's EOC director, Paul Johnson, mayor Fred Eisenberger and Dr. Elizabeth Richardson during a March 2020 press conference on COVID-19. Don Mitchell / Global News Hamilton

Mayor Fred Eisenberger says city staff are “turning” their minds to the relaxing of current emergency orders that have shut down much of Hamilton amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In an interview on Global News Radio Friday morning, Eisenberger said public health and the province will guide many of the decisions for the city when it comes to “loosening things up” and what that would look like.

“So I would think the recreational opportunities might be the first things you’d start to open up. It still has to maintain social distancing because the virus is still very much going to be there.”

READ MORE: Hamilton has 369 COVID-19 cases, two ’emerging’ outbreaks: public health

On Friday Premier Doug Ford said the province will “begin the hard work of recovery” and release a framework early next week “for reopening Ontario’s economy” in a gradual approach, stressing safety first.

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Eisenberger suggested a similar approach coming from the city soon with a “task force” guiding decision-makers into the business of “recovery.”

“This is not going to be a normal situation. It’s not going to go back to the way it was three or four months ago,” said Eisenberger at the city’s COVID-19 update on Friday afternoon.

“As long as this virus exists, there is going to be restrictions of some sort.”

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The mayor also believes change will likely happen in “varying degrees” across Ontario’s communities as each is in a different circumstance with the pandemic.

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“So when the province makes a declaration in terms of how we might relax things, that relaxing might be different in Hamilton than it is in St. Catharines based on where we’re at.”

During the update, medical officer of health Dr. Elizabeth Richardson said decisions to relax social distancing orders in the city will likely depend on a number of benchmarks that probably will be set by nations abroad.

READ MORE: New and emerging COVID-19 outbreaks in Hamilton include St. Joseph’s Healthcare, Barton St. Jail

“There’s various ones that are being proposed and used in other countries around the world, things like what is the rate of new cases that are happening, that is one piece of it. Some look at the number of deaths.”

Richardson says the effectiveness of control measures and the consequences of implementing them need to be weighed together to prepare any path forward.

“So far, there hasn’t been one right way of doing this that any country has found around the world.”

The advantage for Hamilton according to Richardson is that there are “different strategies” being used by nations around the world which allows public health and the city to say in the safety that exists now and learn from others.

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“We’re very fortunate to have a group of talented people who are coming together to look at just those things and learn from them,” Richardson said.

One thing Richardson said she was sure of coming out of the pandemic would be the continued reliance on the “foundational pieces” of infection control for at least the next 18 months.

“You know, people washing their hands, perhaps the use of masks in an ongoing way, the contact tracing and case management that we do, visitors returning to hospitals and Long-Term Care Homes where … people are most susceptible.

READ MORE: St. Joseph’s looking at how it will restart services, procedures postponed due to pandemic

Emergency operations centre (EOC) director Paul Johnson says how the city will operate with a “re-opening” and how the public interacts with it are the keys to how fast the city begins relaxing services.

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Johnson says the major challenges for the EOC will be decisions from Ottawa and Queens Park on what a re-opening will look like and how services for the city will be delivered.

“Coming out of this is not just coming out of it to the same as it was,” Johnson said, “It’s coming out of it to something different. But it will be a little less restrictive, certainly than we see today.”

 

 

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

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

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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.

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.