Infectious disease specialist warns new COVID-19 measures on Ottawa bars, restaurants ‘not going far enough’

OTTAWA — On the day new capacity limits were imposed on Ottawa’s bars, restaurants and gyms, an infectious disease specialist says the targeted measures do not go far enough to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“The virus is winning and we need to take this very seriously,” said Dr. Abdu Sharkawy of Toronto’s University Health Network.

On Friday, the Ontario Government announced new “targeted measures” for bars, restaurants and other establishments in Ottawa, Toronto and Peel due to the higher than average rates of COVID-19 transmission.  The new measures include limiting bars and restaurants to a maximum of six people per table, and 100 people maximum.

Speaking on CTV News at Six, anchor Christina Succi asked Dr. Sharkawy whether the capacity measures will help limit the spread of COVID-19 or if Premier Doug Ford is targeting the wrong places.

“I don’t think the premier is targeting the wrong places, but I would argue that these restrictions are not going far enough,” said Dr. Sharkawy Saturday evening.

“Two words that continue to be reiterated through this pandemic are historic and unprecedented and unfortunately, we’ve reached a historic and unprecedented crisis when it comes to public health and its capacity.”

Ottawa Public Health reported 25 people were in hospital on Saturday for COVID-19 related illnesses. On Sept. 25, there were 13 people in hospital and on Sept. 14 there were 11 people in hospital.  As of Sept. 30, Ottawa Public Health reported 99 per cent of acute beds were occupied in Ottawa, and 43 per cent of ICU beds were occupied. 

On Saturday, Toronto Public Health announced it would scale back contact tracing due to soaring cases. On Friday, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches said the volume of people seeking COVID-19 testing in Ottawa is putting a strain on every part of Ottawa’s detection and contact tracing process.

Dr. Sharkawy tells CTV News Ottawa it is “alarming” Toronto Public Health is scaling back contact tracing of COVID-19 cases, and Ontario needs to take steps to limit COVID-19 spread.  

“Unfortunately, when we are making restrictions in terms of reducing capacity in areas where we know there is a clear epidemiologic link to transmission of this virus like bars and indoor dining, it’s simply not enough,” said Dr. Sharkawy.

“At this point in time we are way behind, and we have to make measures that are absolutely decisive to get ahead of this before we see our emergency rooms and ICUs completely inundated and overwhelmed, and that’s a distinct possibility in the next few weeks.”

When asked about the new capacity limits in restaurants, bars and other establishments, Infectious disease physician Dr. Isaac Bogoch tells CTV News Ottawa, “I think the question is will that be enough.”

Dr. Bogoch adds, “The senior public health leadership of Ottawa and of Toronto, the two worst hit places, are suggesting it’s not going to be enough and more measures are going to be necessary to curb the epidemic in those two areas.”

Last week, Ontario changed the limits on social gatherings to a maximum of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.

CTV News at Six anchor Christina Succi asked Dr. Sharkawy when health officials will be able to determine if the new restrictions are helping to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, the way that these epidemics and these curves work is that we’re not going to see a real impact of a change in behaviour or any measures, good or bad, for at least another couple of weeks. If we impose the right measures now, we won’t really see the true impact of that for at least another 10 to 14 days,” said Dr. Sharkawy.

“So it really reminds us that we can’t get further behind in terms of the timeline here. We’re losing ground, the virus is winning and we need to take this very seriously.”

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