COVID strains are variants of concern for a reason

By MPP Toby Barrett 

Government and health experts have been asking people to stay at home for a reason – we are all dealing with a highly infectious disease. You cannot see it, you do not know whether you have it (only at the point of being tested) and you do not know whether you are passing it on to family or friends or co-workers. To save others from getting sick, or worse, staying home and vaccination are the best preventions. 

In this time of crisis, we rely on our health care system and other institutions of government. For over a year difficult decisions have been required in attempt to keep people healthy and safe.  

While public health measures are having an impact, new variants of COVID-19 pose a significant risk and the situation in our hospitals remains precarious.  Ontario is currently fighting a brutal third wave of COVID-19, fuelled by variants, including the U.K. B.1.1.7 variant that has now become the dominant strain in our province. Ontario also has a number of cases of the B.1.617 from the Indian sub-continent that is becoming the dominant variant in Britain. The United Kingdom is now concerned this could derail their re-opening plans. 

At time of writing, there are 721 people in serious condition in Ontario’s Intensive Care Units because of the virus – ICUs are experiencing extreme pressure. Haldimand-Norfolk has only six ICU beds.   

Beyond trying to keep people healthy and safe which is the top priority, we are engaged in fighting for our jobs and economy. As well, we operate in a parliamentary democracy that guarantees our agreed-upon rights and responsibilities.  

Over the past year, in a very public way, I have fought on behalf of the 110,000 people I represent for the all-important balance between health and safety, jobs and the economy, and our rights and responsibilities. Given the nature of our beautiful riding, I have fought for the loosening of restrictions, or the addition of a number of outdoor activities related to work and play – whether it be access to a cottage or trailer; access to fishing; boating; the use of trails and beaches; or work in farming, construction, and the hospitality industry.  

However, currently we are to stay home as much as possible and follow public health guidelines to prevent people from spreading the disease. There are a large number of people across Ontario who continue to gather for non-essential reasons. Continuing to increase Ontario’s rate of vaccination is critical in helping curb the spread of the virus. 

I have received phone calls and emails requesting marinas, boat ramps and golf courses be re-opened – we went through this last year too.  As many will know, my staff and I have been advocating on your behalf with respect to the responsible involvement in outdoor activities. When appropriate, we have forwarded emails to the Premier’s Office and the respective Cabinet Ministers. As of May 22nd, marinas, golf courses and other outdoor amenities are open.  

On a personal note, I have tested positive for COVID and have been doing well, and am working from home. I continue to take all precautions and have notified close contacts.  

My wife Cari was hospitalized at Joseph Brant, Burlington, with the virus and is coming along well.   

We continue to ask people to stay home unless they need to go out for an essential reason – distance and wear a mask where appropriate.