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Barrie mayor reflects on local COVID-19 situation, vaccination progress

File photo: Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman is pictured on Thursday, June 13, 2013, in Barrie, Ontario. The Canadian Press Images/Cogeco Data Services

More than one year into the COVID-19 pandemic and amid a devastating third wave, Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman said there is greater strain on the local health-care system than there was a month ago, although vaccinations are progressing smoothly.

“Our hospital does have a much, much higher number of COVID patients than it did a month ago,” Lehman told Global New Thursday.

“They’re still OK — they’re not having to transfer patients out to other hospitals in the way that we’re seeing the GTA have to do that, and of course, at RVH, there is the PRU, which is the pandemic response unit … It’s a temporary unit that has 70 beds in it, and those extra beds were set up in the spring to create extra capacity for exactly this situation.”

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Lehman said there’s been few issues when it comes to the operations of local COVID-19 vaccine clinics, although like many other officials in Ontario, he believes more immunizations could be administered if there were more supply.

He also said he’s hearing community concerns regarding businesses that are staying open during the lockdown, transmission of the novel coronavirus in workplaces, as well as the protests against the stay-at-home order that have taken place at Meridian Place.

“Ontario’s big city mayors, among others, have been calling on the province to introduce paid sick leave,” Lehman added.

“That’s, I think, what is needed here. I’m glad to see the premier sort of coming around to that now.”

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On Thursday morning, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the province would be introducing paid sick leave for workers, although he didn’t provide a firm timeline. The announcement came after months of calls from advocates to introduce a provincial sick pay program.

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Lehman said he has sympathy for businesses who have weathered a terrible year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Ontario’s on-and-off lockdowns.

One step city council has taken is to allow people to defer paying their property taxes.

“We’ve also introduced some support for water bills for low income households, and we did that this week,” he said.

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“Property tax is not the number one cost for a business … There’s going to need to be really targeted and deeper support for the sectors that have really been hit the hardest.”

The Barrie mayor said he’s also surprised that so many international flights are still arriving at Toronto Pearson Airport, adding the federal government should introduce more measures.

“On the provincial level, I would just like them to listen to the health table, the science table, about what’s needed.”

Over the past several weekends, lockdown protests have taken place at Meridian Place in downtown Barrie.

Lehman acknowledged everyone is frustrated with the lockdown but said it’s needed now due to the COVID-19 surge and resulting stress on Ontario’s health-care system.

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“We’ve got to stop this wave long enough to get the vaccinations completed.”

The Barrie mayor said anyone who is eligible to get the vaccine and has the opportunity to do so should go and get it.

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