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Ontario Premier Doug Ford at Queen's Park during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Dec. 21, 2020.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

How long does it take to put a key in the lock and turn it?

Surely not five days.

Yet, on Monday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that a provincial “lockdown” was urgently needed but won’t begin until Boxing Day. And in the areas that are already in lockdown, such as Toronto, there will be no substantial changes.

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In the same breath, Mr. Ford proclaimed earnestly: “If we fail to take action now the consequences will be catastrophic.”

What part of “now” and “action” does Mr. Ford not understand?

The “businesses need time to prepare” argument is a pack of hooey.

If shutting down businesses is essential to stave off catastrophe in hospitals – and it probably is – what possible justification can there be for a prolonged delay in implementation of new rules?

By putting off the so-called lockdown until the weekend, the message being sent to the public is: Shop to your heart’s content until Christmas; keep sneaking over to the next jurisdiction to skirt the rules.

Green-lighting a week-long orgy of consumerism may play well to some of Mr. Ford’s base but it’s also carte blanche for coronavirus to spread.

Ontario is already registering more than 15,000 new cases a week. How much higher will that go? Well, continuing along the same path could result in hitting 30,000 cases a day by the end of January, according to modelling released on Monday.

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A small but significant percentage of the infected will end up in hospital, and a chunk of them in intensive care. As health leaders have been saying increasingly loudly in recent days, the hospital system simply doesn’t have the ability to cope with hundreds more patients in ICUs. Adding beds is not simple: Beds are not really beds, they are teams of highly trained health professionals, and there are no spare ones kicking around.

The longer you delay action, the more you can bet on increased infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

Then there’s the lockdown itself, which is slated to run from Dec. 26 to Jan. 23 in southern Ontario, and Dec. 26 to Jan. 9 in northern Ontario (meaning north of Sudbury).

“Mockdown” would be a more accurate descriptor because it makes a mockery of the term “lockdown.”

According to the Oxford dictionary, a lockdown is “a state of isolation or restricted access instituted as a security measure.”

In Ontario, during a lockdown you can – and come Dec. 26 still will be able to – go shopping five times a day, and not just for essentials such as food and medication.

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Many small retailers will have to shutter their shops, but big-box retailers can remain open, to 25 per cent capacity, if they still sell food.

You will still be able to shop at the mall, but only for curbside pick-up.

Factories and many other workplaces will still be operating.

You can still have a wedding, or attend a religious service, albeit with some limits on attendees.

Schools will be closed until Jan. 11 for elementary students and Jan. 25 for secondary ones. In other words, before and after the “lockdown” ends respectively. Huh?

In this supposedly get-tough Ontario, there is no restriction on travel. There is no curfew.

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This is not, by any reliable definition, a lockdown.

Holiday gatherings are supposed to be banned, or at least limited to immediate family. No one has any idea if those rules will be respected, let alone how (or if) they will be enforced. One has to think that most people will respect the rules, more or less. Some will really lockdown by staying at home.

But when you’re constantly sent mixed messages such as, “I’m warning you, there’s a hard lockdown (but it’s pretty flexible and doesn’t begin till Boxing Day, nudge, nudge, wink, wink),” then why wouldn’t people get together?

If the rules you espouse are seemingly made of rubber, why wouldn’t people bend them?

Mr. Ford said on Monday that COVID-19 is “accelerating at an alarming rate.” The only way to counter that is with an equal, or greater, response.

Half-measures and delayed action, an approach Ontario has embraced repeatedly, will not get results.

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“Action is necessary to save lives,” Mr. Ford said.

Sadly, we can imagine him reading from a similar script come Jan. 23.

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