As the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of letting up, some Northwestern Ontario towns are pondering the prospect of road checkpoints to exercise control over who can enter, as some area First Nations have done.
Town of Marathon chief administrator Daryl Skworchinski said Friday the possibility of a controlled checkpoint was discussed this week at an emergency meeting, but no decision was made.
“There is no immediate plan to enact (a checkpoint) at this time,” Skworchinski said in an e-mail.
He said the logistics of a checkpoint — possibly at the intersection of Highway 17 and Peninsula Road — are to be discussed again on Monday when the town’s emergency committee holds it next meeting.
The municipality gained the authority to establish a checkpoint earlier this week when it declared a state of emergency over the COVID-19 crisis.
On Friday, a COVID-19 checkpoint at the entrance to nearby Biigtigong Nishnaabeg First Nation continued for a second day on Highway 627.
Vehicles that pulled up before a wooden gate were approached by band officials and presented with paperwork. Some were allowed through, and some turned around.
It’s believed that about 35 Ontario First Nations, including Long Lake No. 58, have set up checkpoints to try to control the spread of the virus.
When asked Friday if all of Northern Ontario’s main road gateways should be similarly controlled, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said decisions to establish checkpoints are up to provincial and local officials.
Hajdu (Thunder Bay-Superior North) declined to say whether she personally believes checkpoints are an effective way of stopping COVID-19.
Sources said Friday there have been discussions among provincial officials about creating a checkpoint at the Manitoba-Ontario border.
Hajdu reiterated the federal position of encouraging Canadians to remain home whenever possible, and avoid non-essential travel.
There is only one main road into Marathon, which would presumably make it easier to set up a control point. But not every town has that layout.
“It would be hard to do with our large geographical area,” said Shuniah Mayor Wendy Landry.
Greenstone Mayor Ron Beaulieu agreed, adding he’d be concerned that setting up checkpoints might cause locals to worry unnecessarily.
“I wouldn’t want to incite fear,” he said.
Landry added: “At this time, we are just pushing for people to stay home, especially since we have had so many snowbirds who have returned home early.”
Sioux Lookout chief administrator Brian McKinnon said the topic of checkpoints hasn’t come up.
Hajdu, meanwhile, defended the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, saying efforts to alert Canadians to the pandemic were not made too late.
“We are constantly communicating (about the virus),” she said, “using a variety of sources, including radio, television and newspapers.”
A full-page federal ad on ways to prevent getting infected with COVID-19 appeared in The Chronicle-Journal on Friday.
Hajdu said her ministry was in on the government’s decision in early February to send to China 16 tonnes of protective medical equipment, including gloves, goggles and face shields. The shipment was an attempt “to try and contain the source of the outbreak.”
She emphasized the shipment did not include vital N-95 masks. Hajdu said the shortage of protective equipment is a global problem. The current shortage at some Canadian hospitals was not caused by the specific shipment to China, she said.
(Originally published March 28, 2020)