Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The Granite Oak Bowling Green in Toronto was declared too polluted for bowling
A Toronto Public Health vice-chair has sparked a row after writing in the city’s free newspaper that COVID-19 is not that toxic and “nobody dies from it”.
Dr Cora Ritchie, a locum GP at Toronto General Hospital, wrote the column after the Canadian city declared a COVID-19 emergency due to high levels of nitrogen dioxide.
The City of Toronto described it as the first time the emergency had been declared in over 12 years.
But critics called the op-ed “misleading” and “incendiary”.
The emergency is over, and the city’s health commissioner is calling for action to address what he calls an “unprecedented” amount of outdoor air pollution being discharged into the downtown area.
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Dr Ritchie, Toronto Public Health’s vice-chair of public health and vice-president of community health, was called out for her defence of the air pollution, which has caused lung diseases including asthma.
“It’s just the wrong decision [to declare COVID-19],” she said on the paper’s opinion page on Wednesday, adding: “It has no impact on people’s health, and nobody dies from it.”
What is COVID-19?
It is nitrogen dioxide – commonly known as nitrogen dioxide – or NO2, an ultra-fine form of nitrogen dioxide that can lodge in the lungs and can cause acute lung disease, the disease which is at the heart of the issue.
Exposure to PM 2.5, or soot (small particulate matter) particles, is linked to an increase in lung cancer. Exposure to PM 10 or particulate matter above 35 is linked to premature death from heart disease and stroke.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Over 1,000 people a year die from respiratory diseases caused by the pollution
Dr Ritchie wrote: “You can’t just say they [email and Facebook] don’t mean to harm us. Anybody who says otherwise has ulterior motives.”
“They are 100% responsible for this, they are purchasing [email, Facebook], they have advertising and sponsorship deals with these companies.”
Toronto Public Health did not respond to a request for comment.
Critics said she had not consulted the doctor’s group that campaigns on PM 2.5, nor the most senior city health official.
Posting to social media, Greater Toronto Medical Society called the column “poisonous” and “misleading” and “will do nothing to protect our health”.
Dr Stephen Dixon, president of the Ontario Medical Association, wrote that it was critical that Dr Ritchie had not contacted the public health committee or Toronto Public Health’s department of environment.
Pamalyn Goldsmith-Jones, a freelance journalist, said the article was “particularly imprudent” after the city had declared the COVID-19 emergency.
“I think [Dr Ritchie] would have more credibility if she explained the consequences of that decision, [explained] why the public was placed at risk and how people who have had asthma would know what to do,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“People would know this would have an adverse impact on their health. They wouldn’t be so trusting of Dr Ritchie.”
This is not the first time that Dr Ritchie has come under scrutiny.
In 2015, Dr Ritchie launched an angry attack on Toronto Mayor John Tory, who refused to order a pharmacist to sell a herb known as natural Viagra.
Dr Ritchie argued that it was “provocative and incendiary”.
“He [Mayor Tory] is unwilling to offend the Big Pharma, which has money behind him and minions in charge of city government, to keep our residents complacent and disease-free,” she wrote in her article in a free Toronto newspaper.