SAULT STE. MARIE - OPP or city police roadblocks, designed to stop southern Ontarians or people outside the province from entering the Sault and Northern Ontario in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, aren’t likely to appear any time soon without a drastic change in provincial legislation.
“I don’t want there to be any confusion about this because people have emailed me about closing the highways,” said Sault Mayor Christian Provenzano, speaking to SooToday Friday.
“Mayors have absolutely no authority to close a highway...so we wouldn’t be able to close Highway 17 at any point, even points that run throughout the city.”
“If you’re going to set up some type of entry system, that takes a lot of manpower and a lot of resources because you’ve got to check every car coming into it. I think it’s a much more reasonable proposal for the province to consider requiring people to stay in their own public health unit regions,” Provenzano said.
The idea of setting up a Northern Ontario bubble, similar to the Atlantic bubble in the Maritimes, has been voiced by some.
However, even if mayors were allowed to close highways leading into their communities, North Bay Mayor Al McDonald says he believes setting up checkpoints would cause serious traffic issues.
Timmins Mayor George Pirie isn't keen on the idea of a Northern Ontario bubble.
Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger has said his city has done its part in trying to contain the virus and hinted something more may need to be done.
Mayor Provenzano said he has not been in discussions with other Northern Ontario mayors regarding the concept of a northern Ontario bubble.
“None of them have called me to either raise the bubble issue or talk about the bubble issue.”
“It’s not an idea that I think is going to be practically enforced or implemented,” Provenzano said.
“The province should consider travel restrictions which require people, with certain exceptions, to stay in their own region. So, it’s not necessarily a bubble around Northern Ontario.”
“I think people in the Algoma region should be staying in the Algoma region. People in the Peel region should be staying in the Peel region. Each of the regions has their own public health unit and I think that people should be encouraged to stay in the area governed by their own public health unit and not travel into areas that are governed by another public health unit,” Provenzano said.
What concerns Provenzano more than anything else at this point is the need for the provincial government to make sure vaccines make their way north as soon as possible to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“From my perspective, I think one of the things the province should consider doing, particularly in light of two things, one is the arrival of (COVID-19) variants in Ontario, and two, is the distribution of the vaccine and it not getting to some of the low risk areas such as Algoma until later.”
Until the vaccine gets here, stay within your region, Provenzano said.
“I think that in Ontario we’re organized, at any rate, in response to this pandemic by our regions and our public health units, and I think we should stay on that organizing principle and people should be encouraged to stay within their own public health unit region.”