There has been an outpouring of support for the Niagara Medical Officer of Health Dr. Mustafa Hirji as he faced online threats over his decision to keep Niagara in the Grey lockdown pandemic mode while much of the rest of the province is heading to partial reopening. The threats were posted on Facebook the after the Ontario government announced that the stay-at-home order will be lifted in 27 more public health units next week, but Niagara was left in the grey zone on Dr. Hirji’s advice.
In the days before the lockdown was relaxed. Dr Hirji had posted comments on social media outlining his disagreement with the loosening of restrictions. While acknowledging the reproduction rate had been dropping in Ontario, Dr Hirji was concerned about the effect the new variants of COVID could have on a population that is still largely unvaccinated. In a posting he said modelling by health experts “shows by mid- to late-March, Ontario could again be seeing record high daily cases. ICU occupancy would start increasing, before hospitals have even had a chance to get under their capacity threshold. Ontario is staring at another possible lockdown in 1 month. “ Hirji was not alone in his disagreement with lifting restrictions. The Ontario Hospital Association and the OMA were also concerned the relaxation of restrictions was happening too soon. In addition science table co-chair Steini Brown, dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, Steini Brown, dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, expressed concern as did Dr. David Williams, the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.
Niagara Police are investigating the threats to Dr. Hirji. Both Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Ford issued statements condemning the threats.
Niagara Region Public Health (NRPH) said Dr. Hirji’s advice to the province was based on saving the lives of Niagara residents, preventing further lockdowns, and helping businesses to return to operation “with enough predictability and runway that they will be able to effectively recover.”
“Many people and business owners are struggling significantly through the pandemic and the social restrictions that have been necessary at times, and this weighs heavily on Dr. Hirji when advising the province on Niagara’s situation.
“However, Dr. Hirji also agrees with the consensus of public health experts that reopening the economy too quickly right now risks a devastating third wave and third lockdown which could do even more harm to Niagara’s residents and business owners,” the statement read.
For his part, Dr Hirji issued a statement of appreciation for the support he had received but also held out an olive branch to his critics.
“Thanks to everyone for their words of support this evening, including the #WeStandWithDrHirji tag. I’m deeply humbled by the volume & breadth of support. More importantly, I’m gratified that so many are speaking up against violent language—such discourse corrodes our unity. 1/6
Likewise, let’s not reject those who oppose my position because a few went too far. Civil debate on how best to manage the pandemic is necessary—to improve our response, but also to build shared understanding of the chosen approach. We can be calm & civil, but still disagree. 5/6
In This Together has been a slogan of the pandemic. I hope we can all return to that ethos. Violent threats, political attacks, denigrating those who disagree splinters us rather than unifies us. Let’s listen more, understand each other, & come together through dialogue.”