TORONTO -- Ontario Premier Doug Ford visited his cottage on Easter Sunday to check on the plumbing but didn’t interact with anyone on the drive up, his office confirms.

This comes amid an intense debate about whether Ontarians should be allowed to visit their vacation properties while the province tries to slow the spread of COVID-19.

"I think any criticism towards me is fair," Ford said on Friday. "Everyone has their opinions and I'll tell you what happened."

"On Sunday morning of Easter, my team told me I got the morning off and it was the first time I got off in two months and it's weighing on me because a couple years ago we had burst pipes make a terrible mess, thousands of dollars of damage, and that night I was thinking about it."

"I woke up early in the morning, around 5:30 a.m., and then I just got ready and hopped in the pickup truck myself at 6:30 a.m. and I drove up there and I checked it out, made sure everything was OK, it was, and literally hop hop back in my truck and drove right back and I was back by noon."

"That's what happened. I probably won't be going up there for another couple months – I won't have time, but that’s what happened."

Earlier this week, Ford said there is only so long the government can "hold back taxpayers" from going to their cottages as the warmer months arrive. 

But after the premier had a “heart-to-heart” conversation with cottage country mayors this week, he released a statement that said cottagers were being asked to "hold off" visiting their properties.

Top health officials in the province warned Ontarians not to flock to their cottages during the pandemic because it could put an unpreceded strain on small town resources. There is also concern that people travelling back and forth from their vacation properties would contribute to the spread of COVID-19. 

The mayors have also said that the relatively low number of intensive care unit beds in their largely rural communities would make widespread transmission of the virus potentially devastating.

"I know Ontarians are eager to enjoy the great outdoors, but there will be plenty of long weekends to come," Ford said Thursday. "Right now, we need to focus on doing everything we can to protect the health and safety of all Ontarians. We’re all in this together and together we will beat COVID-19."

Dr. David Williams, the province's Chief Medical Officer of Health, issued a memo to his local counterparts last weekend saying that while health officials should "discourage" the use of cottages, the province should not impose a legal ban. 

Doug Ford

"After consultation ... my current recommendation is to not prohibit access to secondary residences through legal order, but to continue to provide communications that discourage their use," Williams said in the May 3 memo.

Williams was asked to weigh in on the issue after property owners in Haldimand and Norfolk counties were banned from moving into their cottages this month under Section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act. Local health officials in the region warned homeowners, who breach the ban, that they could face fines of up to $5,000 per day.

Ford also acknowledged that restricting cottagers from visiting their properties would be devastating for local businesses that rely on seasonal visitors between April and September. 

"That's their livelihood," Ford said. "There is only so long I can hold the big gates back from these people. They're going to want to go to their vacation property." 

Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also came under fire after his wife posted a photo on Instagram of the family's Easter celebrations at Harrington Lake, the prime minister's official country residence.

The residence is located a 30-minute drive from downtown Ottawa in the province of Quebec.

"As I mentioned last week in my presentation, after three weeks of my family living up at Harrington and me working here, I went to join them for Easter. We continue to follow all instructions from public health authorities," Trudeau said in April.

Liberals say Ford's cottage visit is 'inexcusable'

Ontario Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter issued a statement Friday morning slamming the premier for visiting his cottage during the pandemic.

"The premier for weeks has told Ontarians not to go to the cottage – but it's do as I say not as I do," Hunter said. "There are no acceptable explanations for the premier’s behaviour."

"No one believes he had to be there in person to fix his plumbing."

"When he said that he couldn’t hold Ontarians back from the cottage – what he really meant was that he couldn’t stop himself."