Etches asking province to put Ottawa into grey-lockdown zone

Ottawa's medical officer of health has asked the province for the city to move into grey-lockdown territory before the Easter long weekend.

Dr. Vera Etches asked her provincial counterpart to make the move before Easter long weekend

Erin Connolly wears a mask while looking at clothes at Trailhead in Kingston, Ont., Feb. 10, 2021. Unlike the winter shutdown, retail shops can stay open in grey zones. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

Ottawa's medical officer of health has asked the province for the city to move into a grey-lockdown zone before the Easter long weekend, after a recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Vera Etches made the comments in a news conference Wednesday afternoon as the city's key COVID-19 indicators are well in the red on the province's colour-coded pandemic scale, and are continuing to rise.

"We have consistently seen with holiday weekends that they're followed with a bump up in the number of people testing positive," she said. "I'm asking people to do their part."

If COVID-19 levels are not brought under control, the city will see stronger lockdowns, she said.

With a rise in cases of variants of concern, Etches said outdoor sports and gatherings are not immune from transmitting COVID-19.

She said people need to stop dining indoors with people outside their household, not to have outdoor barbecues with people outside their household, and not gather with friends or extended family over the long weekend.

Etches said she understands businesses can be negatively impacted if they aren't given sufficient notice about greater restrictions, and has been working with local business groups to ensure businesses know a move to grey is likely coming.

Stronger restrictions

Going grey means no indoor gatherings, except with members of the same household. Physically-distanced outdoor gatherings can't be larger than 10 people.

Indoor dining in restaurants is also banned and they must stop serving alcohol by 9 p.m. ET and close by 10 p.m. Patios can stay open in grey, but only people who live together can sit together.

Religious services, weddings and funerals are limited to 15 per cent of indoor capacity and a maximum of 50 people outdoors. Drive-in services are allowed.

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Another aspect that's different from the winter shutdown is that in-person shopping is still allowed for all businesses, but supermarkets and pharmacies are limited to half capacity, and all other stores can be only 25 per cent full.

Personal-care services can open in grey zones at a maximum of 25 per cent capacity or five people, whichever is less, as of April 12.

Most indoor and outdoor sports facilities and gyms must also close. Some are allowed to stay open for day camps and child care. 

As of late March, outdoor fitness classes can host a maximum of 10 people if the space allows for distancing.

Not ruling out stronger measures

Etches suggested the restrictions under the grey zone may not be strong enough to prevent the surge in infections the city is seeing.

"What is permissible is one thing, but what is desirable, what will protect each other, what will protect yourself from these asymptomatic transmissions that occur with the variants, it really is the basics of keeping distance between people who don't live with you and using a mask to add that barrier," she said.

A pair in masks walks in downtown Ottawa in March 2021. (Brian Morris/CBC)

She said she wouldn't rule out stronger local restrictions if the situation doesn't improve and infection rates outpace vaccinations in the city.

"We will get to better protection from vaccines [but] there's too much damage to be done if we let COVID run wild before then."

Schools to remain open

Despite a number of outbreaks at schools across the city and "significant' numbers of school-age children testing positive for the illness, Etches said she is advocating for schools to remain open.

"If we can bring the COVID levels down in the community, that is essential for schools to manage," she said.

The chief of staff of the local children's hospital echoed Etches's comments at Wednesday's news conference.

"Schools should be the last things to close and the first to open," said Dr. Lindy Samson, CHEO's chief medical officer.

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