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Dr. Peter Zalan: We need to pressure politicians to protect the North by closing the North

Society of area doctors plan to push for travel restrictions, asking the public to join them in pressuring municipal and provincial officials

The Sudbury and Manitoulin Island Medical Society will be meeting online Thursday evening. 

We will be covering three major concerns: 

  • The shortage of personal protective equipment, the so-called PPE, especially for physicians and staff working in the community
  • The lag time in receiving the results of COVID tests
  • The lack of travel restrictions in Ontario

Travel restrictions have been issued in the province of Quebec, in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and by Indigenous communities throughout Canada, with the intention to minimize the spread of the coronavirus. In fact, eight provinces and territories are already enforcing travel restrictions. Not Ontario, which has the second highest case count of coronavirus infections in Canada.

The huge southern metropolitan areas are the hotspots of infection in Ontario, as elsewhere in Canada. The daily count of new cases of COVID-19 has grown alarmingly larger day-by-day in Ontario. In contrast, there are relatively few COVID cases in the North. There have been no new cases of COVID-19 reported in Northern Ontario in the last four days. Nunavut has reported zero COVID-19 cases to date.

Mayor Brian Bigger has declared a state of emergency. He asked that the public forego unessential travel in and out of the city and stay at home during Easter. This was only a recommendation. 

Premier Ford, who earlier declared a state of emergency, asked residents in urban areas to avoid travel to their cottages. This was only a recommendation.

As an example of decisive action, the Quebec government announced on March 28 that it is moving immediately to protect some of the province’s more remote regions from the spread of COVID-19 by setting up checkpoints to block non-essential travel. If people attempting to enter or leave the regions are not an essential service, or if they are not going for health reasons or for humanitarian reasons, they will be sent home.

The population of the North is at increased risk. We have an older population than the south, and a higher incidence of diabetes and heart disease. Imagine the outcome if the virus proliferates in remote Indigenous communities, small remote municipalities and in nursing homes.

The opportunity still remains, if we adopt enforced travel restrictions, that we can diminish the size of the expected surge and avoid the worst of the outbreak. Our communities may recover economically sooner than our unfortunate cities.

We have the example of Italy as to what can happen if we do not flatten the curve. 

Northern Ontario is protected by its geography. Its citizens live in a huge landmass of physical distancing and social isolation that is not available to Italy, New York City or Toronto. We must take advantage of this huge opportunity.

The Easter holiday may become an existential threat to the North. Some Sudbury families are surely getting ready to visit families living in southern cities. Southern families will be coming our way. 

Physicians will be asking our mayor, the municipal council of Greater Sudbury and the premier of Ontario to take immediate action and issue travel restrictions in order to protect the population of Northern Ontario from the spread of the coronavirus into the North.

Please add your voice to our plea. Call Mayor Brian Bigger. Call your councilor. Call Premier Ford.

Dr. Peter Zalan is past president of the medical staff at Health Sciences North.


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