Health authorities ask for pause on cottage season to prevent strain on rural health-care systems

Federal health authorities and their regional counterparts are asking Canadians to refrain from visiting their cottage properties as the summer months approach to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in more rural communities with less robust health-care systems.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says there are a host of public health reasons why people should remain at their primary residence in the coming weeks and months instead of venturing to areas with less capacity to handle COVID-19 cases.

"There will be some variations between provinces and territories, but the fundamental principle I think being that if you ventured into an area that has low capacity for example, more remote, more rural where the access is an issue and you may impact the local community, that's I think the highest concern of public health authorities," said Tam during a Thursday press briefing.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has been asked to respond to these recommendations, which has prompted frustration from cottage owners, and whether his government has plans to intervene. While he previously stated that he couldn’t "hold taxpayers back from going to their cottages," on Thursday he changed his tune.

"I know Ontarians are eager to enjoy the great outdoors, but there will be plenty of long weekends to come,” he said in a statement. “Right now, we need to focus on doing everything we can to protect the health and safety of all Ontarians. We’re all in this together and together we will beat COVID-19."

This comes after a series of calls he had with local mayors about the risks of allowing travel to cottage country. In an interview on CTV News on Wednesday, Norfolk County Mayor Kristal Chopp said there’s already been issues with enforcement as big crowds descend on the beach town of Port Dover.

"In our case, there is no gradual reopening. Whether it’s seasonal cottagers, boaters, migrant workers, it’s zero to a thousand overnight in our small communities. That becomes a challenge not just from health care capacity but also supply chain, basic commodities, enforcement and so on," said Chopp.

"We have one hospital that has one ICU bed and one ventilator, and so we don’t have a big margin for error."

Dr. Tam said going outside, however, is permissible and encouraged so long as people maintain physical distancing guidelines and reassured that restrictions on visits to parks and other recreational sites would be lifted in the months to come, province by province.

"What is important is that you're seeing provinces and territories recognizing that people need to get outside and that one of the first phases of easing off public health measures, is to ensure that people who haven't been asked specifically to stay indoors can go out and still maintain some physical distancing and the hygienic measures," she said.

"For the sake of mental health, physical health, that is actually important."

In a tweet published Thursday, Health Canada said if cottage owners need to take a trip up to their property for "insurance purposes" to make it a day trip only.

If you need to check on your cottage for insurance purposes, please only make a day trip and return directly home. https://t.co/zl0tQtcVAQ#COVID19 #stayhome pic.twitter.com/MUWu9cSsiR

— Health Canada and PHAC (@GovCanHealth) May 7, 2020

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