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Coronavirus: Escaping the ‘city’ during pandemic not recommended by Ontario health officials

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Muskoka residents lash out on cottagers escaping the ‘city’' Coronavirus: Muskoka residents lash out on cottagers escaping the ‘city’
WATCH ABOVE: The Ontario government has asked those with seasonal residences to stay home amid the coronavirus outbreak. As Morganne Campbell reports, there appears to be a mounting divide between permanent and seasonal residents – Apr 29, 2020

There appears to be a growing divide between permanent and part-time residents in cottage country across Ontario as concerns mount regarding the spread of the coronavirus.

“She just went off at me about, ‘Go back to Toronto, you shouldn’t be here, what’s wrong with you’,” said Gareth Seltzer, a permanent resident of Bala.

Seltzer says he was mistaken for someone from the so-called ‘city’ while waiting for his wife, who was shopping at the local grocery store. He says a woman approached his vehicle and accosted him.

The 58-year-old has been visiting the area for 26 years and has spent the last decade living on his property full-time.

READ MORE: Four new coronavirus cases confirmed in Simcoe Muskoka, bringing local total to 237, 15 deaths

“We had a licence plate that said Oakville on it even though we’re not from Oakville and I think that is probably what set it off,” added Seltzer, who used to live in Toronto.

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The province has put emergency measures in place limiting which businesses can open as parks and public spaces close to help curtail the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“It’s a reflection of fear no doubt because that’s typically not us,” said Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith who has been fielding complaints from full and part-time residents. “With that said, it’s still not acceptable to treat other people with anything less than empathy and compassion on both sides of this.”

Click to play video 'Premier Doug Ford tells people to avoid cottage country' Premier Doug Ford tells people to avoid cottage country
Premier Doug Ford tells people to avoid cottage country – Mar 27, 2020

Smith and his counterparts across the Muskoka region have formed a task force to determine best steps moving forward when dealing with the influx of so-called cottagers escaping city life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Smith says there’s concern many will perceive the Victoria Day long weekend in May as the ‘unofficial kickoff’ to summer.

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Simply put, he wants people to stay home.

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“We know that as we try to move towards Phase 1 of getting out of this that it’s all about community spread and trying to lessen that, so obviously the more people that are moving around anywhere, the more chance for community spread, so we want to make sure that everyone is doing their part,” Smith said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Emergency child care centre in Muskoka approved for essential workers

The province’s top doctors are also echoing those thoughts. During the Ontario daily coronavirus briefing, it was acknowledged that those living in cottage country may be concerned about the potential for the virus to spread and about supply chains as some stock up in remote areas.

“There’s some concern that people coming from the Greater Toronto (Area), where the preponderance of infections exist, may have asymptomatic infection and bring it to that community,” said Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the province’s associate medical officer of health during the daily COVID briefing at Queen’s Park Wednesday.

There are also concerns surrounding the resources at smaller local hospitals.

“The health-care system may not be equipped to deal with the number of people that come in terms of the number of hospital beds, the number of ICU (intensive care unit) beds and the number of ventilators,” added Yaffe.

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Cottagers are allowed to visit their properties but are asked to self-isolate upon arrival and bring their own supplies; however, it is being strongly discouraged that they visit at this time.

“We love you, we have a great relationship that’s lasted over 100 years and we’re going through a weird time right now but once we get over it we’ll all be one big happy family,” says Smith.