City to decide by end of April whether summer events will go on
OTTAWA -- Mayor Jim Watson says he'll be meeting with the City's special events team and Ottawa Public Health before the end of the month to determine whether summer festivals from July 1 on will continue as the COVID-19 pandemic rages.
Events in Ottawa have been cancelled through the end of June in an effort to keep physical distancing maintained.
Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches has been thanking residents of Ottawa who have been staying isolated, keeping their distance, and only going out for essential trips to get groceries and prescriptions, but has also said efforts need to continue for a while longer.
Speaking on Newstalk 580 CFRA's "The Morning Rush with Bill Carroll", Watson said he feels like a broken record, repeating advice to keep distancing, but it's still necessary.
"We're still seeing an increase every single day of cases and, sadly, we now have 13 deaths in Ottawa," he said. "The whole purpose of physical distancing is to keep people away so that the virus doesn't spread from one person to another and then you bring it back to your home."
Watson said he's still waiting for those numbers to turn around and doesn't expect the pandemic will be over soon.
"I think we're in this for a longer haul than just the next couple of weeks," he said. "I think the premier was really wise when he said we don't want to rush to get out of this and then we have to come back with all of the restrictions because we stopped physical distancing too soon and we're back to square one."
When asked about Bluesfest, Watson said he didn't want to be pessimistic, but was cautious about saying whether or not it should go ahead.
"My great hope is that it's the kickoff to our festival season. Normally, the Tulip Festival is, and that's cancelled, but unless the numbers start to go down, the last thing we need is ten thousand people at a concert spreading the virus."
Bluesfest organizers have been urging fans to maintain physical distancing in an effort to flatten the curve and keep the festival, scheduled for July 9-19, on track.
Watson said the City's special events team and Dr. Etches will meet "sometime in the next couple of weeks" to review what will happen in the City from July 1 on.
"Of course, the day after June 30 is July 1, which is our biggest festival, Canada Day. I'm not optimistic that we're going to see a big change between June 30 and July 1," Watson said. "I think that would be a shame but it's the right thing to do. We can't ask people from across the country to come and celebrate while we're still fighting this virus that's killing people."
Watson has said previously he doesn't expect Canada Day festivities on Parliament Hill, which are organized by the federal government, to go ahead this year. The organizer of the Canada Day celebration at Clarke Fields in Barrhaven has already called off this year's event.
Watson also said he's starting to worry that the warm weather, which is going to be here eventually, will start to tempt people back out in large numbers.
Temperatures this week have been below the seasonal average – we even saw a bit of snow on Wednesday – and that may be playing a part in keeping people at a distance during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Watson said he fears there could be more complaints about violations once it finally gets nice out.
"Most people are hoping for really great weather; I'm cringing when the great weather comes because it's going to cause some real challenges, I think," he said. "People say, 'What's wrong with just a few kids playing basketball?' Well, what happens when a few more kids come along and you have ten or twenty people on the basketball court? In a normal circumstance, that'd be great, but in these circumstances I think everyone has to sacrifice a little for the greater good."
On the Easter long weekend, Ottawa By-law issued 24 tickets to people violating COVID-19 rules. Between April 3 and April 14, By-law had issued 74 tickets and responded to 1,916 complaints.
A previous version of this article incorrectly listed Bluesfest's dates as July 19-19; the festival is scheduled for July 9-19.