Ontario premier says province ready for spring flooding amid COVID-19
Update on flooding season comes as Ontario reports new COVID-19 cases, deaths
Premier Doug Ford says the province is ready for spring flooding season and is actively monitoring risks across Ontario as it continues to manage the COVID-19 outbreak.
Ontario's surface water monitoring centre in Peterborough is keeping a close eye on water levels and flows in areas that could face flooding, Ford told reporters on Saturday. Areas at risk include communities along the Great Lakes, in the Ottawa Valley and in First Nations.
"As the weather gets warmer, flooding is top of mind for many and it's top of mind for us because we have all witnessed the devastation that flooding brings with it," Ford said at a news conference at Queen's Park.
"We must be prepared to act, and we are."
Ford noted that at least 10 regions in Ontario last year declared states of emergency due to flooding. He said the province prepared a flooding plan in March, and under that strategy, emergency staff are on standby to sandbag and evacuate areas as needed.
"With everything that is happening this year, it's more critical than ever that we're ready for this season," Ford said.
"But despite our best efforts, we can't stop the flooding. But what we can do is be prepared."
Ford said Ontario is making sure that it can access federal and non-governmental resources, such as the Canadian Red Cross, to reduce the burden on local communities.
John Yakabuski, Ontario's natural resources and forestry minister, said there is a moderate-to-high risk of flooding for northern Ontario and James and Hudson Bay coasts, where staff from the ministry are closely monitoring all major tributaries ahead of ice breakup, which is expected in early May.
As well, since April 30, surveillance flights have begun across the far North to monitor ice breakups. Operations will be based out of the ministry's office in Moosonee field office, Yakabuski said.
Water levels are high in southern Ontario due to snow melt along the Great Lakes, he added.
"We know there's nothing we can do to prevent flooding. We can only become better prepared for it," Yakabuski said.
Solicitor General Sylvia Jones told the news conference that leaders of First Nations have expressed a desire to stay on their lands as long as it is safe to do so.
In a news release, the provincial government said some members of First Nations could be temporarily relocated to higher and safer ground in their own communities.
Yakabuski noted that fishing season, along with the turkey and bear hunts, have begun in Ontario and fishers and hunters are urged to engage physical distancing when out on the water or in the bush.
Premier irked at Canadian flag flown upside down
Ford denounced protesters who gathered on the grounds of Queen's Park on Saturday to demand the province ends its lockdown amid COVID-19. It's the second weekend protest one on the legislative grounds.
Last weekend, Ford called the demonstrators "a bunch of yahoos."
This weekend, the premier stopped short of calling them names but said it irked him that the Canadian flag was being flown upside down.
"People are hurting out there and people want to get back to work. And there's a lot of people hurting and I can appreciate it," Ford said. "But what they are doing is putting their lives in jeopardy, as far as I am concerned, with congregating, side by side."
Ford said when he looks outside and sees the flag being flown upside down, he gets angry because it is disrespectful.
"What just burns me up, more than anything, more than them standing out there, is I look out the window and I see our Canadian flag being flown upside down."
"If they want to fly our flag upside down, they don't respect our country, and I'll be the first to help them pack their bags and they can find a country that they want."
Warm weather prompts warning from health officials
This weekend is looking to bring some of the warmest weather Ontario has seen for months, prompting warnings and advice from health officials on how to spend time outside safely.
"I don't mind people going outside, people getting exercise, but plan it. Don't just go out and go to the most crowded places," said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams.
In an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 amid sunny skies, Williams said people should plan ahead of time if they choose to venture outdoors.
That includes picking a good time to be outside and picking a location that allows you to keep at least two metres away from others, Williams said.
Depending on how crowded it gets outdoors people could also wear masks as a precaution, he added.
"If you're going to be in situations where you think you might get involved with a crowd, you may want to choose to wear one," Williams said.
Premier Doug Ford's stance on the matter is clear: "People have to practise social distancing. They just have to. We've come all this way. Why go backwards based on having warm weather?"
Various prevention measures have been put in place by officials across Ontario to slow the spread outdoors, including the temporary closure of provincial parks and public outdoor spaces and amenities. Burlington also recently restricted drive-by parades.
But as temperatures rise, so have the number of cases.
Ontario reported 511 new confirmed cases on Saturday, an increase from the 421 cases reported on Friday. The figure also represents an increase from consistent overall provincial case counts reported in April.
The provincial total now sits at 17,119 cases.
The province reported 1,176 deaths, though CBC News has counted 1,266 deaths using data from local health units. Some 11,390 people have recovered.
At a news conference Saturday afternoon, Dr. Williams said 2,540 health-care workers in Ontario have tested positive for COVID-19 since January.
Williams also said the province is assessing long-term care homes quickly when it comes to testing, infection prevention control, personal protective equipment, staffing and adhering to standards.
Williams said the death of a personal support worker at Downsview Long-Term Care Home is under investigation by Toronto Public Health.
"We would need to be informed by the full investigation to understand all the facts that might have been involved," Williams said.
Small list of businesses allowed to reopen Monday
Meanwhile, in what Ford is calling a "glimmer of hope," a few businesses are set to reopen Monday as Ontario continues to flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19.
The list is small and includes mostly seasonal businesses — such as garden centres and landscapers.
You can find the full list of businesses and further details about the plan at the link below.
All of the businesses that reopen will have to follow the rules of physical distancing — something Rocco Rossi, the president of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, says the government and employers must enforce.
"We need to know that there's tracking and tracing capabilities so if there are some spikes we can quickly put those fires out," Rossi told CBC Toronto.
He also says businesses set to reopen need a significant amount more of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the training to use it.
The province, meanwhile, says the businesses must follow strict health and safety rules.
Long-term care cases continue to rise
A prominent health care advocacy group launched a call for improved conditions at the province's long-term care and retirement homes on Friday.
The Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) says the Ford government must improve access to COVID-19 testing, PPE and create safer working conditions at the facilities.
On Saturday, Ontario reported that 910 long-term care residents have now died of COVID-19, an increase of 49 since Friday. The province is also tracking an outbreak at one additional long-term care home, bringing the provincial total to 167.
The following homes have reported at least 30 deaths each:
- Orchard Villa Retirement Residence, 54 deaths.
- Altamont Care Community, 41 deaths.
- Eatonville Care Centre, 39 deaths.
- Seven Oaks, 37 deaths.
- Mon Sheong Home for the Aged, 31 deaths.
- Isabel and Arthur Meighen Manor, 30 deaths.
With files from The Canadian Press, Mike Crawley, Angelina King