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‘Significant risk’: Ontario Medical Association urges government to reconsider indoor reopening of bars

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The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) is calling on the provincial government to reconsider the opening of indoor bars amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The head of the organization, which represents over 43,000 physicians and medical students, said in a statement that opening bars indoors carries a “significant risk.”

“When people consume alcohol, inhibitions are lowered, making them much less likely to practise physical distancing, proper masking behaviours and good hand hygiene,” OMA President Dr. Samantha Hill said.

“Indoor locations with decreased air ventilation present a particularly high risk of transmission.”

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Much of the province moved to Stage 3 of reopening on Friday, which allows for the resumption of indoor operations at restaurants and bars, albeit with strict public health measures in place.

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Customers must remain seated and be physically distanced between those at different tables.

In their statement, the OMA cited recent examples in which bars have been linked to COVID-19 outbreaks in different parts of the world, including in Montreal where at least 30 cases have been tied to nine establishments.

Experts have previously told Global News that bars and nightclubs pose a serious risk in spreading the virus.

“It is important to note that in many of these cases, the bars were following public safety guidelines and yet transmission still occurred,” the OMA said.

“If people are attending bars, it is imperative that they continue to employ social distancing measures.”

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Global News reached out to the Ministry of Health for a response to the statement and was redirected to the Ministry of Finance.

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“We appreciate that the OMA has shared their point of view and share their concern for the health and safety of the people of Ontario,” said Emily Hogeveen, spokesperson for Finance Minister Rod Phillips.

“The three stages of A Framework to Reopen Our Province are based on advice from the Chief Medical Officer of Health.”

Hogeveen noted that public health measures must be in place at bars and said health officials are continuously monitoring the situation to determine if more restrictions could be loosened or tightened.

“Most important, everyone will need to keep treating each other with respect and acting responsibly by following public health advice,” Hogeveen said.

“We’re confident they will, just as they have throughout the global pandemic.”

— With files from Kalina Laframboise

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