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Health care workers in Ottawa are being harassed protesters against COVID-19 mandates


Downtown Ottawa has been a hard place to be these last couple of weeks. Truckers and others protesting COVID restrictions have been forcing businesses to close. And some protesters have harassed passersby for wearing masks including health care workers. Dr. Alison Eyre is a family physician at Centretown Community Health Centre in Ottawa and joins us now. Doctor, thanks so much for being with us.

ALISON EYRE: Well, thank you very much for your interest in our city.

SIMON: When - what's it feel like to be in your city right now?

EYRE: Well, it's very disturbing. Our office is right down at the very corner of where the protests are in downtown Ottawa, and it's very intimidating. Thank heavens they've stopped blowing their horns. It was extremely loud the first week. But people say it's a peaceful demonstration, but I would say that a huge 18-wheeler is not a peaceful thing to have in the middle of your city.

SIMON: Well, tell us about the stories we've heard of health care workers being harassed.

EYRE: So I work in a center where we have a lot of health care workers as well as other things. And we do do home visits out in the community, and we've definitely had discussions. We make sure to have nothing visible that would in any way, shape or form identify us as a health care worker when we go out throughout the community to avoid any kind of harassment. But definitely, a lot of health care workers work - live downtown. And you know, they're wearing their masks because we do do these things. And a lot of people have been harassed, have been told to take their masks off. It's very unpleasant.

SIMON: Has it been difficult to get to work, difficult to get around? Have people been missing out on health care because of the protests?

EYRE: I usually would take my car down 'cause I do home visits, and I'd like to have my car to be able to do that. But now I get my husband to drop me off a little bit away and then to pick me up at the end of the day because I don't want to bring my car into it. I know some of my patients have been doing the same things. They'll take their car and then take something else to get down to the center because they don't want to bring their cars anywhere near. It's intimidating. It's easy to feel you could get stuck.

We generally offer evening hours at our clinic because that allows for working people to be able to access our health care. We stopped offering our clinic now. It's just running until 5:00, and we want everyone out because we don't want anyone downtown. Certainly, a lot of patients in the downtown area don't feel like they can come out. A lot of seniors are scared of coming out. Their drugs can't be delivered to them by their pharmacies. They - the local supermarket has stopped doing some deliveries because they can't get their deliveries into the area.

SIMON: Dr. Eyre, I certainly understand why you would have no sympathy for anyone harassing health care workers. But as I don't have to tell you, the protests have sparked an international movement. Do you have any feelings for people who say they're just tired of all the restrictions and think they're now doing more harm than good?

EYRE: I think there are so many nuances in what you just said. We're all tired of the restrictions. And at some - and in some sort of ways, shapes and forms, we're going to need to learn to live with COVID. However, like many things, learning to live with COVID is still going to have vaccines at its base. The majority of the country has completely accepted the fact that in order to open up, we need to be able to be - to have the majority of people vaccinated. Learning to live with COVID is like learning to live with many things in our lives. It is going to have definitions about how we do that safely.

SIMON: What would you like the government to do? And when I say the government, of course, I guess I mean provincial, federal, local governments.

EYRE: I would like them to stand united, and I think they are much more. I think the government has to put an end to this in the most peaceful way possible. And I think they are taking some stances to do that. I'm very glad I'm not in government. I have enough issues in my own job. I'm sure this is a very complicated thing to deal with. And I do respect that, up till now, there has been no violence in breaking it apart, which hasn't always been true with how demonstrators are dealt with.

SIMON: Dr. Alison Eyre is a family physician in Ottawa. Thanks so much, and good luck to you.

EYRE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.