KENORA, Ont. — Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford and other officials in the area are appealing to non-resident cottage owners to stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement, Rickford noted that local residents and health officials are expressing growing concerns over the number of seasonal property-owners returning to the northwest.
"I am asking Ontarians and Manitobans alike to stay home and refrain from visiting their cottages as we work together to stop the spread of COVID-19," he said.
Rickford referred to the situation this past weekend, when he said "there were just way too many Manitobans in Kenora and the surrounding area...This is not a place to self-isolate. People must return to their primary residences."
He explained that northwestern Ontario communities don't have large hospital capacity, adding "the risk is too high for people to make leisure visits or open their camps early."
Dr. Sean Moore, Chief of Emergency Services at Lake of the Woods District Hospital, has been sounding the alarm about the lack of resources in the hospital's Emergency Department and ICU.
"We are a tiny operation compared to the hospitals in Manitoba, and we are already well beyond capacity," Moore said.
Rickford–the Minister of Energy, Mines, Northern Development, Mines and Indigenous Affairs–said he is working closely with government colleagues "to review all options necessary to protect Kenora-Rainy River's health care and supply networks."
Kenora MP Eric Melillo issued a statement Tuesday that also called for cottagers from outside the region to remain at home in order to avoid spreading the virus to places that haven't already been exposed.
Kenora Mayor Dan Reynard said it's difficult to ask the region's valued summer residents and visitors to stay away, because they are vital to the business community.
However, he said, "we really need everyone to just stay home. It is key to making the difference in the spread of this virus by what we have seen in other countries."
Francis Kavanaugh, Grand Chief of Grand Council Treaty # 3, spoke out in support of Rickford's request to non-residents.
"Grand Council Treaty #3 is taking all precautions necessary to protect our communities from COVID-19 and we are asking citizens of neighbouring jurisdictions to respect our efforts," Kavanaugh said.
Dr. Ian Gemmill, Acting Medical Officer of Health for the Northwestern Health Unit, said travel between communities poses a perfect opportunity for coronavirus to skip from one place to another.
"If you are not a permanent resident of our area....please consider that during these strained times, you may not have access to the health care that you need, and would be better to remain in the area where you have a family doctor and a health sciences centre," Gemmill said.