THUNDER BAY - The Atlantic provinces saw some success in containing the spread of COVID-19 with a travel bubble instituted last summer, but public health officials say such travel restrictions in northern Ontario are not feasible.
“Ideally it would be nice to have a northwestern Ontario bubble,” said Dr. Janet DeMille, medical officer of health with the Thunder Bay District Health Unit. “It’s very hard when you essentially have a highway that goes through and there are goods and services that go through everyday. There’s a lot of essential travel that happens in our region.”
There are also essential workers who live outside of the region who must travel here for work, including the mining industry and the health care sector.
“We know there is essential places that businesses or mining or health care where people come in from other areas,” DeMille said. “It’s really hard to have a bubble. People are encouraged not to move around, even within our area for non-essential reasons. People should be staying at home and in their own communities at this time.”
In the Northwestern Health Unit catchment area, there were concerns last year about people travelling to or from Manitoba and bringing the virus to the region.
Last week, Northwestern Health Unit medical officer of health Dr. Kit Young Hoon said there is no evidence that the growing number of cases in the region is a direct result of travel to or from Manitoba.
The health unit has reported numerous instances of possible exposure to COVID-19 on flights arriving in the city from Southern Ontario.
Since the start of the pandemic, of the 689 total cases of COVID-19 in the Thunder Bay District, 33 were directly related to travel and over the past 10 days 11 of the 91 reported cases have been travel-related, a 12 per cent share.
“The virus can come here because someone has travelled or is returning to the area,” she said.
“But really the virus is already here and is already spreading in our area and travel becomes less of a contributing factor. We need to certainly not travel so we are not taking it or risking bringing it in, but all those precautions that everyone needs to be taking should be anyway regardless of travel or not.”
For those who must travel for essential reasons, such as work or medical appointments, the recommendations remain the same upon return.
“Our recommendations when people are coming into this area, including for essential workers, is to stay at home as much as possible when you are here except for when you have to go do work,” DeMille said. “The guidance is already out there to essentially create a bubble.”