CORNWALL, Ontario – Members of the media and local officials were invited to the Nav Centre on Monday, Feb. 17 to get an update on the impending quarantine of potentially over 200 Canadians currently aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
Rebecca Hickey, Senior Public Relations Officer with Nav Canada, Mayor Bernadette Clement, Dr. Howard Njoo of Public Health Canada and Dr. Paul Roumeliotis of the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) gave short statements updating the public on the situation and took questions from media.
“Cornwall did not get to choose to have this quarantine here, but we do get to choose how we react to this,” said Mayor Bernadette Clement in her opening statement.
The Diamond Princess, currently docked in Japan, has so far had over 300 cases of COVID-19 (novel Coronavirus) diagnosed on board.
The federal government announced on Saturday night that it would be flying those Canadians home.
All Canadians who are being repatriated will first be screened for any symptoms of COVID-19. Any passenger presenting with symptoms will not be allowed to board and will instead be transferred into the Japanese healthcare system for treatment.
The plane carrying the Canadians will land at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, where they will be screened again before going to the Nav Centre where they will be under quarantine for a period of 14 days.
When asked why the quarantined patients will not be staying in Trenton, which already has a quarantine setup, Dr. Njoo explained that the site there was already full with evacuees from other parts of Asia.
“I am also here to remind all of the federal government officials that Cornwall is not Trenton,” said Mayor Bernadette Clement. “This is our unique situation and I want to make sure that federal government agencies recognize that this is not a community with a history of a military base in our community as there is in Trenton.”
Dr. Njoo explained to the public that Canada’s health system was on top of the COVID-19 situation.
“I know that across Canada, there is concern and worry about the novel Coronavirus,” Dr. Njoo said. “I want to start by saying, that to date, we have been successful in identifying all of the cases in Canada, treating them appropriately, and quickly sharing information across jurisdictions to limit the spread of the virus. Our health system is working exactly as it should.”
Dr. Njoo also outlined the conditions of the stay of the repatriated Canadians at the Nav Centre.
Njoo explained that the passengers of the Diamond Princess will have to remain in their rooms while under quarantine at all times, except for limited amounts of outdoor leisure time every day. The patients will be told to remain a minimum of two meters from others, and also will have to wear gloves and sanitary masks while outside. Additionally, the government of Canada will be providing 24/7 security of the quarantine.
“At no point will the general public have access to, or be able to come in contact with individuals in quarantine during their 14 day stay at the Nav Centre,” Dr. Njoo said.
The matter of cross jurisdictional communication has been a point of concern and frustration amongst elected officials in Cornwall and the surrounding area. MP Eric Duncan released a statement earlier on Monday calling the communication of this matter to local officials an “absolute failure.”
When asked why local officials were not informed about the quarantine at the Nav Centre, Seaway News was told to direct this question to the government’s general inquiries media line. We have yet to receive a response.
When asked when Nav Canada first learned about the possibility of a quarantine taking place at the Nav Centre, Rebecca Hickey stated that talks had been ongoing for weeks. Kim Coe-Turner, General Manager of the Nav Centre, clarified that they were told that the quarantine would not be happening, and that they were also caught by surprise when the Global Affairs Canada announced the move in a late Saturday night press release.
Mayor Bernadette Clement said that she initially had reservations due to the lack of communication from the government, but she said that the press conference assured her that the lead agencies were ready to keep her and the residents of Cornwall informed and answer any questions.
“I’m feeling much more confident that going forward we are going to have the federal government, the lead agencies filling that void,” she said. “When there is a lack of information, it is quite normal for people in this area, in any area, to feel worried because their needs around information were not being met.”
Clement went onto explain that promoting effective communication with the federal government was a priority of hers.
“My job is to say that. My job is also to say that we need to move past that as well,” she said. “I’m not going to live in a place of frustration. I can’t, because there is too much to do and too much communication that needs to take place with the residents of Cornwall. And the people of Akwesasne, and the people of the Counties. There is 115,000 people here who want information. My job is to make sure that the federal government is communicating directly with the people of Cornwall.”
Representatives from South Glengarry, The United Counties of SD&G and Akwesasne.
“More information please, more information,” Clement went on to say.
Earlier in the day, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis of the EOHU inspected the Nav Centre’s quarantine site.
“I was quite relieved yesterday,” Dr. Roumeliotis said at the press conference. “I walked around with our Infection Control Manager from the Health Unit to look at where the pod is going to be. This is a completely isolated building. It is only connected by a tower and a tunnel, so looking at the way the quarantine is going to be setup . . . I can tell you that I’m very comfortable, as is my team, who are infection control experts, that the procedures in place will adequately protect the passengers coming from abroad, but very importantly, the staff at the Nav Centre and Cornwall and the surrounding area.”