A Woodstock city councillor and member of the regional board of health is in quarantine after recently returning from travel outside of Canada.
Sandra Talbot, who also sits as a member of Oxford County Council, confirmed in a statement Friday that she was in the midst of a 14-day quarantine, but did not respond to an additional inquiry regarding where, when, and for how long she had travelled.
Talbot is the latest public figure to face questions over recent international travel. While international travel is not banned during the coronavirus pandemic, Canadians have been urged to avoid non-essential travel outside of the country.
In her statement, Talbot herself noted that Canada had not banned travel, and that she has been following all requirements, including that she quarantine for 14 days, monitor for symptoms, and verify compliance with federal travel rules by phone.
“I am a strong proponent of the safety rules and regulations that the Canadian and Ontario governments have put in place around public health. I always promote wearing a mask and taking all steps possible to stay safe, and I follow these rules at all times myself,” Talbot said.
“When I come out of quarantine it will be into the new Provincial requirements to stay at home, and I will continue to do so,” she said, referencing the provincewide stay-at-home order that took effect Thursday.
In a statement Saturday, Woodstock Mayor Trevor Birtch was highly critical of Talbot and her decision to travel, saying she “may not have broken the letter of the law, but she sure stomped on the spirit of it.”
“She sat in on meetings where the decision was made to advise people to avoid any unnecessary travel, but she decided the rules do not apply to her,” he said.
Birtch also charged that Talbot had added fuel to the fire of disdain that people have of elected officials.
“This ill-advised decision reflects badly on the entire councils of both the city and Oxford County. Why should people follow the advice of the public health… when a board member won’t,” he said.
County council will be asked at its next meeting to review Talbot’s conduct and decide whether to potentially rescind her appointment to the board of health, Birtch said.
“She has lost all credibility and her continued presence on the board will serve to undermine any further actions it may take,” he said.
In a statement on Friday, Larry Martin, chair of the board of health, described Talbot as a valued member of the board, where she has “exercised the powers of her office and fulfilled her responsibilities in good fair and in the best interests of the organization.”
“Ontario is now under a second state of emergency and stay-at-home orders. I urge all residents to follow local public health guidelines,” said Martin, who is also the warden of Oxford County and the mayor of Norwich Township.
Similar to other areas of the province, Southwestern Public Health, which covers Elgin and Oxford counties, has reported a significant surge in new coronavirus cases over the course of the last month.
Since Dec. 15, the health unit has seen at least 1,201 new cases and at least 29 COVID-19-related deaths — roughly 61 per cent of all cases and 74 per cent of all deaths reported in the Elgin-Oxford region during the pandemic.
Talbot joins a growing list of public officials who have faced criticism following word of recent international travel.
A week ago it was revealed that Dr. Paul Woods, the CEO of London Health Sciences Centre, had travelled to the U.S. five times last year to visit immediate family.
News of the travel has led to significant internal strife at the organization. Woods was fired on Monday, days after LHSC’s board of directors had publicly supported his continuation in his role. On Wednesday, Woods filed a $2.5 million lawsuit against the organization over his dismissal, and on Thursday, board chairwoman Amy Walby resigned.
Last week also saw the departure of Dr. Tom Stewart, CEO of Niagara Health and St. Joseph’s Health Care System. Stewart resigned after it emerged he had vacationed to the Dominican Republic in December.
Two weeks ago it was revealed that Rob Phillips, the province’s finance minister, had vacationed in St. Barts in December. He later resigned from the role.
Outside of Ontario, Alberta Minister of Municipal Affairs Tracy Allard was also removed from her post over a Hawaiian vacation, while multiple other United Conservative Party MLAs and staffers also faced demotions or were asked to resign.
With concerns over mutations of the virus appearing in Brazil and the U.K, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday left the door open to tighter travel restrictions, including a possible ban on outbound air travel.
Canada had banned outbound flights from the U.K. before implementing a strict new testing requirement on passengers entering Canada.
Trudeau said the choice of whether to bar travel to the United States lies largely with the U.S., not Canada, since the country of arrival has jurisdiction over who enters.
Meantime, the Canada-U.S. land border has been closed to non-essential travel since March 2020 and will remain so until at least Feb. 21.
A survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies earlier this month found that 87 per cent of respondents said they would support a total ban on international travel until there are several consecutive days of reduced numbers of COVID-19 cases.
— With files from Simon Little and Jordan Armstrong, and The Canadian Press