'Uncharted waters': Ottawa mayor declares state of emergency over coronavirus

Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency in Ottawa in response to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus during a historic council meeting on Wednesday, saying the city is “putting all hands on deck” during these “unprecedented times” to prioritize people’s safety.

In the declaration he announced at the start of council’s first-ever virtual meeting, Watson wrote that COVID-19 “constitutes a danger of major proportions that could result in serious harm to residents of the city of Ottawa.”


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Declaring a state of emergency will help the city deploy emergency operations and staff in a more “nimble” way, enable a more “flexible” procurement process to purchase equipment that front-line workers need and support the efforts of the public health team, Watson said in his remarks.

Council on Wednesday also passed several financial measures aimed at supporting residents and local businesses as the pandemic continues — including property tax deferral and water bill deferral programs.

The mayor urged residents once again to stay home, to not visit friends and family members and to only go on outings for essential reasons — like to pick up groceries or medication — in order to prevent further transmission of the coronavirus.

“Social distancing is essential to help flatten the curve and to save lives in our community,” Watson said. “And we must remember: No one is immune from catching this virus.”

“I’m confident that by working together, we will come out of this stronger than ever as a community.”

Risk of spring flooding cited in emergency declaration over COVID-19

Wednesday’s development marks the second time in a year that the city of Ottawa has been under a state of emergency.

Watson last declared an emergency in April last year during major floods that devastated several areas of the city. That state of emergency was lifted in mid-June.

The risk of flooding again this spring was cited as an additional reason for declaring a state of emergency in Ottawa on Wednesday.


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The city may find itself responding to two emergencies simultaneously in the weeks or months ahead — COVID-19 and seasonal flooding, City Manager Steve Kanellakos said.

Watson’s declaration said the threat of flooding “may further impact the city’s ability to focus its resources on addressing the COVID-19 response.”

Amidst the unpredictability of Ottawa’s circumstances, Watson said he wants residents to know the city is “putting all hands on deck to do what we can to first and foremost keep people safe.”

“This is uncharted waters for us all to deal with a pandemic in our lifetime,” the mayor said in a teleconference with reporters following Wednesday’s council meeting.

“That’s why we’ve stepped up our emergency operations centre for both for flooding and because obviously dealing with two major challenges is a lot worse than dealing with just one.”


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The Ontario government also declared a state of emergency in the province in response to the virus on March 17.

The province has so far reported 27 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the national capital.

Ottawa Public Health reports its figures separately and as of Wednesday said it was investigating 43 confirmed and indeterminate cases. However, health officials have warned that the number of people who have COVID-19 in the city is likely much larger due to the limitations of testing and that they have laboratory confirmation of community spread.


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Watson thanked everyone “working around the clock” to continue to provide essential services in the city during the pandemic, including first responders, other city staff, grocery store and pharmacy employees and maintenance and cleaning workers.

The mayor acknowledged this is “a stressful time” for residents and urged people to seek help if they need it and to connect with friends and family virtually.

The mayor was one of only two council members physically present in the council chambers at city hall on Wednesday. The rest of city council dialed in by phone and only a handful of senior city staff were present in person.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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