Health officials have charged a Whitby couple for allegedly providing inaccurate information to public-health investigators tracking the source of the highly infectious British variant of COVID-19 in Ontario.
Charges filed with the Durham Region provincial offences court allege that on Dec. 21 and Dec. 26, Martina Weir, a family doctor who works in long-term care homes, and her husband, Brian Weir, failed “to provide accurate information” concerning all the people they encountered during their “period of communicability for COVID-19.”
The couple is also facing an additional charge each of obstructing health officials.
Dr. Weir is accused of obstructing by “providing false information to the Durham Region Associate Medical Officer of Health in relation to contact tracing involving the U.K. variant strain of COVID-19.”
Mr. Weir’s charge-sheet states he obstructed health officials by “providing false information in relation to contact with anyone who travelled from the United Kingdom.”
The non-criminal charges, laid under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, have not been tested in court and carry a maximum penalty of $5,000. The Weirs could not be reached for comment. In statements from lawyers representing either of the accused, the Weirs contend they are not guilty and plan to “vigorously defend” against the charges, according to a CBC News report.
Their case first came to public notice on Boxing Day, when the province issued a press release stating that an unidentified couple in Durham, a region encompassing Whitby situated east of Toronto, were the first Ontarians known to have contracted the B117 variant of COVID-19 that emerged from Britain. The release said the couple had no known travel history, exposure or high-risk contacts.
The next day, however, the province offered a correction, stating that additional investigation had found that the couple had been in contact with a traveller from Britain, information that was not provided in earlier interviews, according to the release.
There is no indication or suggestion that the Weirs spread the variant to anyone else.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario website lists Dr. Weir’s primary practice as Lakeridge Health, a hospital operator in the region, where her specialty is family medicine.
Lakeridge Health operates five hospitals and employs 5,400 people. In a statement, Lakeridge Health said Dr. Weir did not work at any of its facilities in December. The health provider actively screens for any staff who have had contact with travellers form outside the province or the country.
“All COVID-19 prevention protocols were followed to ensure the safety of our team and our patients,” said the statement from spokeswoman Sharon Navarro.
Dr. Weir also works as a contractor with long-term care homes operated by the Region of Durham. A spokeswoman for the region said Dr. Weir didn’t enter any of the homes between Dec. 11 and Jan. 17 and that she won’t be working for the region until a review is completed. “There are no concerns about risk to residents related to this matter as per public health guidance,” said spokeswoman Melissa Westover in an e-mailed statement.
Early evidence suggests the B117 variant may increase transmissibility by 50 per cent. It does not appear to be more likely to cause death or severe disease.
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