Blyth BIA talks COVID-19 with MPP Thompson during special meeting
BY DENNY SCOTT
The Blyth Business Improvement Area (BIA) welcomed Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson to a virtual question-and-answer session last week that saw Thompson speaking extensively about COVID-19.
On Tuesday night, Thompson, one of her staff members, a representative from the Wingham BIA and several members from the Blyth BIA attended a half-hour Zoom call. Thompson was given a list of questions from Blyth BIA members to answer which took the entirety of the call.
Thompson first addressed a number of questions regarding vaccines, but spoke in general terms about COVID-19 and vaccines first.
“We’re very fortunate to have an excellent public health unit in Huron-Perth,” she said. “[Huron-Perth Medical Officer of Health Dr. Miriam Klassen] and I work very, very closely.”
She went on to say that she’s happy with the support of physician clinics and that she regularly discusses issues with the wardens of counties in her riding. She also said she was very happy with the percentage of adults who are vaccinated in both Huron and Bruce Counties.
Thompson then addressed specific questions, starting with why Canada’s vaccination rates are so low compared to other first-world countries.
“One reason we have low vaccination rates is we’re waiting on regular vaccine deliveries,” she said. “Moderna has shortchanged all of Canada: Every province and territory. Everyone has hope for getting vaccinated, but the availability is just not there. That’s one reason we’ve been held up in terms of vaccination rates.”
Thompson said that the province and the country are “picking up steam”.
“In the next couple weeks, more and more Pfizer vaccine [supply] will become available. That is in addition to the AstraZeneca vaccines available through pharmacies and we will see everyone who wants a shot in their arm will get one.”
Thompson then spoke to the demands of teachers’ unions to have teachers vaccinated, and whether that made sense with the suspension of in-person classes.
Thompson said she sincerely believes everyone needs to be vaccinated and the province still wants to focus on educational assistants and special needs teachers. She also said that, with more pharmacies providing vaccination clinics, more and more teachers will be getting their vaccines.
“We want teachers to be safe, but part of that is the availability of the vaccine,” she said.
Next, Thompson talked about vaccines being tested and made available for younger people, specifically comparing Canada to the United States where people 16 years of age and older are able to get the vaccine.
“At the federal level, the Pfizer vaccine is soon going to be tested for use in patients ages 12 to 16,” she said. “It’s already available for people 18 years and older in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. It’s good news hearing that Health Canada will test for people 12 to 16 years old.”
Finally, Thompson addressed a question regarding when the province will be able to “fully open” again, and how that is tied to the percentage of people vaccinated.
The question referenced “full vaccination” of all people, but Thompson said that’s not really an accurate way to characterize the requirement to return to normal.
“It’s not fair to say we won’t be fully open before we’re fully vaccinated,” she said. “Other [locations], like the United Kingdom, opened at 70 per cent vaccinated. We will look to our Chief Medical Officer of Health to help direct us on that matter. In the meantime, we encourage as many people as possible to get that shot in the arm.”
BORDER AND TRAVEL
Thompson next fielded questions not only about international borders, but also travel between areas within the province.
She first addressed the question of quarantine hotels, specifically if it was cheaper to pay a fine than it was to stay in the hotels, which have been a focus of some concern since they were implemented.
Thompson first said that international travel is a federal issue, so she can’t answer as to the dollar amount of the fines, but did say that there are steep punishments set for people who don’t utilize a quarantine hotel.
“My understanding is if you’re found to be breaking any of the federal government protocols, there’s an offence under the Quarantine Act and a fine up to $750,000 or six months in prison,” she said.
“This is a battle, a fight against the variants of concern (VOCs),” she said. “We can only hope to collectively join together in this fight and continue to get vaccinated.”
Next, Thompson answered a question regarding cross-border travel with the United States. The question specifically said that “America has COVID under control” and asked why U.S. travellers aren’t being allowed across the border.
Thompson didn’t feel that accurately captured the situation, saying there is still significant concern over VOCs in the United States.
“The VOCs travel and transmit very, very easily,” she said. “It’s important that, from a North American perspective, we continue to be vigilant.”
Thompson said the U.S. still has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world and is now fighting VOCs like everyone else.
Next, Thompson addressed a question that asked about opening up Huron County by preventing travel to the area from harder-hit areas, a plan that has been utilized in British Columbia.
Thompson said case counts are spiking in British Columbia as well, and that each province has to make its own decision and Ontario has not made the decision yet.
Thompson fielded four other questions, starting with a controversial church in Aylmer, which has been the site of several rule-breaking gatherings, including one over the weekend that saw three Perth County residents charged. The writer of the question asked why the church was still allowed to operate.
Thompson said the government doesn’t direct police or the judicial system, but said the Chief Medical Officer of Health for that area could implement a Section 22 order to take “a more stringent stand in terms of how they manage that particular situation.”
She said the only other effort that can be made is to appeal to people’s better judgment and recognize the efforts put forward by everyone who is following the rules.
Thompson also addressed delayed driver’s licence tests, with BIA Chair David Sparling saying his son’s test had been delayed four times.
“We recognize that COVID has caused so many things to be cancelled,” Thompson said. “In-vehicle passenger road tests will remain cancelled due to close proximity.”
She said the province’s Minister of Transportation, MPP Caroline Mulroney, is working hard to keep tests going when it is safe by taking measures like preventing people from taking tests outside of their local postal code.
She also answered questions about why golf courses can’t open sooner (due to the stay-at-home order) and the financial stresses of the shutdown, to which she said she respects that people can’t afford to be shut down any longer. She did say, however, that the small business support grant is available and that new funding will be made available, likely this week, specifically for tourism businesses.
Sparling thanked Thompson for taking time to answer the questions and said he appreciates her support.