Lord Mayor Betty Disero says she stands by Dr. Mustafa Hirji and the medical decisions he makes to keep Niagara residents safe.
Disero was concerned about the criticism he received during his update to regional politicians Friday, a small number of whom said they found his messaging too negative, and questioned his credibility.
During the meeting, he referenced other countries, including the U.K., Netherlands, Italy and Brazil, their handling of the pandemic and their outcomes.
The Netherlands vaccination program is going at a similar pace to Canada, is just a little ahead, he said, and that country is “now in its fourth wave, and putting pressure on its hospitals.”
He also warned about the possibility that if the number of cases increases, more people in the 60 and 70-year old age group could become sick and die.
He told regional politicians people should be encouraged to stay at home and minimize interactions for the next eight weeks, which will take us to the point where more people are vaccinated and the weather is warmer — otherwise, we face the likelihood there will be a third lockdown.
West Lincoln Mayor Dave Bylsma suggested public health, with its negativity, is losing its credibility with the public.
He told Hirji “there seems to be a disconnect to large-scale realities,” citing the overall death rate in Canada as not indicating a pandemic, and that there is no advantage to vaccinations.
Hirji addressed his concerns by explaining there haven’t been a huge number of deaths because of the measures that have been taken.
He also spoke to the economic hardship created by some of those measures, and said while businesses are suffering, there is “no good outcome,” but rather “a bad outcome versus a worse outcome,” and that everything possible should be done to help local businesses.
Mayor Walter Sendzik of St. Catharines suggested a need to ensure “we’re balancing information,” adding “doom and gloom” is not helpful.
He accused Hirji of saying he wants to shut down Niagara, when the region could be in yellow or orange, but Hirji said he was not advising changing restrictions, only that residents limit contacts and stay at home as much as possible.
Mayor Jim Diodati also asked Hirji to be careful with his words, and reminded him of the need to be balanced. Diodati said messaging, as portrayed in media headlines, causes “increased fear, anxiety, and depression, while admitting what is said in the press is not under Hirji’s control.
“I think people know I support following medical experts,” Disero told The Local following the public health update.
Niagara-on-the-Lake residents are being given the same message that Hirji shares, she says.
“They talk about putting a positive spin” on the messaging, she adds, “but how do you put a positive spin on the number of cases going up? You could say ‘there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,’ but how do you put a spin on a third wave?”
The light at the end of the tunnel, as Hirji keeps repeating, is the arrival of vaccines, says Disero, and having people vaccinated, “but we’re not there yet.”
Hirji is the medical expert, “and what he tells us is what I say to the public. I don’t want to give anyone anything other than the medical advice from the experts.”
Regional chair Jim Bradley agreed, telling Hirji his best medical judgement and advice is what is required, “not just good news.”
Hirji said he’d love to be able to tell only good news “and hand out cupcakes and nice things,” but it’s his responsibility to tell “the hard truths. I know no councillor wants me to come here and tell false stories, just the straight goods.”