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Ford denies Kingston’s request for control over local COVID-19 restrictions: ‘The answer is no’

Ford denies Kingston’s request for control over local COVID-19 restrictions: ‘The answer is no’
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he did not want any jurisdictions 'going rogue' after Kingston asked to be given more control over COVID-19 restrictions.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford gave an unequivocal “no” when asked if he would consider giving more regional powers to Kingston-area officials to lift COVID-19 restrictions.

“We have to stick together, we’ve done such a great job, everyone in the province, the 14.5 million people, the businesses, the health teams, the health workers, everyone has to stick together, so the answer is no,” Ford said in his daily briefing on Wednesday.

READ MORE: Kingston region officials ask province for more flexibility during coronavirus pandemic

On Tuesday, a letter addressed to Ford, signed by the mayor of Kingston, the wardens of Lennox and Addington and Frontenac County, and the head of KFL&A Public Health, asked the premier to consider allowing the region to ease lockdown measures based on local data.

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The region’s consistently low case numbers — with 61 total cases and only two active lab-confirmed cases as of Wednesday — was the basis for the request. The letter argued the local COVID-19 situation in the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington region is vastly different than those in larger urban centres, where health officials are still battling the spread of the disease, and that regional officials should be able to have more control over local lockdown measures.

Coronavirus outbreak: Ontario to allow select non-essential businesses to reopen
Coronavirus outbreak: Ontario to allow select non-essential businesses to reopen

Ford pointed out that if one region were allowed to open more amenities earlier than others, it might prompt travel between regions.

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“If they loosen up restrictions in one area, guess where all the people from Toronto and the GTA are going to go have dinner, whatever, they’re all going to flock to Kingston, and I don’t think that would be very fair to that jurisdiction have all those people coming in, in one shot like that,” Ford said.

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On Wednesday, Dr. Kieran Moore, medical officer of health for the region, said that if they were granted more regional control over COVID-19 restrictions, that containment of the virus would have to be focused on the community, and that travel between jurisdiction wouldn’t be advisable.

Support your local economy and [when it comes to] traveling, I think, within the province or between provinces, to me at this time is not the best idea,” Moore said.
Kingston city council get a look at the first draft of a plan to restart the local economy
Kingston city council get a look at the first draft of a plan to restart the local economy

Moore argued that if communities focused on their regional circumstances, and if the province were to support this initiative, that it would make sense to allow for more regional controls across the province.

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“If Toronto or some other city in Ontario remains an outbreak, does southeastern Ontario, for example, have to remain in a closed economy and not be allowed to slowly and incrementally follow their own local data,” Moore asked.

READ MORE: Some seasonal businesses reopen in Ontario as COVID-19 spread slows

Despite Ford’s strong reaction to the request, the proposal submitted to the premier by Kingston officials says their plan is actually based in the province’s own reopening framework, which was released this past week.

The KFL&A proposal noted that there may be evidence to support lifting restrictions in regions with lower incidence rates.

Moore pointed to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to divvy up New York State into various jurisdictions, considering New York City is worse hit than other areas in the state.

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“He is breaking down New York State into different zones of activity and letting them open up in a regionalized framework based on evidence, based on data, and with ongoing monitoring and surveillance to enable a safe opening up with the economy,” Moore said.

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The proposal also said that current restrictions and long-time lockdown measures could have negative effects on a community, especially one with low case numbers.

“Public health emergency response measures can also cause negative health outcomes, including social isolation, mental health strain, reductions in preventative medical care, and negative economic impacts.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Canadians struggling with mental health during pandemic

It’s unclear if the premier was even aware of the letter, or the 19-page proposal sent to him Tuesday before he was asked the question at his daily briefing Wednesday afternoon. He did not mention seeing either, but he did seem adamantly against the idea.

“We have to run the province as one group, one unit, that’s how we ended up getting the numbers down a bit. We can’t have people going rogue,” the premier said.

Moore also did not get a chance to hear Ford’s answer, since he was interviewed just minutes after the premier was asked about the Kingston request, but he still seemed optimistic about regional opportunities to combat COVID-19.

“This plan was always created to work synergistically with the provincial plan, not to contradict it,” Moore said.