Ford's defence of Ottawa lockdown questioned 

An Ottawa Hospital scientist and the head of the local hotel association are calling into question some of the claims Premier Doug Ford made Tuesday for justifying a 28-day lockdown for the Ottawa area. 

Ford said wastewater report, packed hotels were part of his reasoning

Premier Doug Ford defended his decision to include Ottawa in a 28-day lockdown yesterday, saying he'd seen a report that showed a spike the in the levels of COVID-19 in the city's wastewater. The senior scientist who looks at that data, however, is questioning that characterization. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

An Ottawa Hospital scientist and the head of the local hotel association are calling into question some of the claims Premier Doug Ford made Tuesday for justifying a 28-day lockdown for the Ottawa area. 

In a news conference, Ford responded to criticism from Mayor Jim Watson and Dr. Vera Etches, who both have pushed back against imposing the lockdown on Ottawa, given the nation's capital has had relatively low COVID-19 case counts.

Ford said he'd recently seen a wastewater report from the city which showed the levels of COVID-19 "in the sewage are spiking up." 

"It's a warning sign .. that we can't take anything lightly," he said. 

But Doug Manuel, a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital, questions that characterization.

He said scientists and doctors are still learning how to interpret the wastewater data, and while the numbers have been creeping up slightly, they're still pretty flat. 

"We're definitely looking at it from day to day, and we're looking at it in conjunction with some of the other information until we feel we can really interpret it clearly," he said. 

Doug Manuel is a physician and senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and a professor at the University of Ottawa. (Submitted by Doug Manuel)

Manuel said the wastewater data has been used alongside other indicators like hospitalizations and reported cases to determine the severity of Ottawa's COVID-19 situation.

While he and his colleagues are expecting cases in the city to rise over the holidays, Manuel said he was surprised by the news of a lockdown, citing the colour-coded system the province has in place.

Under that system, Ottawa is in the orange zone, which includes restrictions around gathering sizes but does not require businesses like restaurants or gyms to close. 

"Maybe we didn't need a lockdown based on that sort of approach," he said. "Basically in Ottawa, we kind of like jumped three colours." 

Still, Manuel urged Ottawans to do what they could to keep the case count low during the 28-day shutdown, set to begin Dec. 26.

Hotels not overrun, says local association

Ford said he was also worried people from Quebec and Toronto would flock to Ottawa if there was no lockdown, claiming that he'd "talked to someone in the business of the hotels" who said their hotel was "packed."

But according to Steve Ball, president of the Ottawa-Gatineau Hotel Association, local hotels certainly aren't being booked up right now.

"I'm not quite sure who [Ford's] talking to, but none of the hotels that I represent, I think, qualify as being packed over the holiday season," he said. 

Normally, hotels would draw visitors from places like Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City, Ball said, and some people from those areas have indeed booked stays in the city. But on average, local hotels have occupancy rates 80 per cent lower than where they were this time last year, he said.

Since the lockdown announcement, many of those few remaining bookings have been cancelled, Ball said, and some hotels have had to lay off staff. 

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