It will be spring in Canada, eventually. A passel of vaccines will usher it in. But first comes our winter of pandemic discontent.
The provincewide lockdown that Ontario is about to go into is necessary, under the circumstances. Steps could have been taken earlier to prevent things from coming to this, through better use of testing, contact tracing and isolation, and through earlier and wider application of targeted closings. But that might as well be ancient history. Canada’s most populous province is where it is, leaving lockdowns as, once again, the chief tool at its disposal.
Ontario is following in the footsteps of Manitoba, which saw cases spike in the fall and introduced restrictions that have started to bend the curve, and Quebec, which is planning to close non-essential businesses as of Dec. 25.
There are a lot of questions about Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s plans, from those who think his government should be doing more, and those who think this is all overkill.
For example, some parts of the province, including rural areas and the City of Ottawa, have relatively few cases. Unlike the Greater Toronto Area, they’re not currently hot zones. So why put them into lockdown?
Because the experience of the past few months suggests the most effective actions are those taken early, before case numbers shoot up. The longer the delay, the stronger the measures will have to be, and the longer they will have to run.
Given high infection rates in the most populated areas of Southern Ontario, and in neighbouring Quebec, a sharp and hopefully short lockdown appears to be the best way of ensuring that a low-infection place like Ottawa stays that way. If Ottawa’s number of cases and patients in hospital goes from low to lower by February, some people will point to that as proof a lockdown was unnecessary. It will in fact prove the opposite.
In the GTA, the Ford government didn’t get ahead of the virus.
As case numbers climbed in some municipalities in the fall, it ramped up measures selectively, as if people couldn’t cross city lines to dine out or go to a gym. The approach – which saw Toronto and Peel Region locked down while neighbouring York wasn’t – didn’t work. The percentage of tests coming back positive in York is now higher than in Toronto.
Hence the decision to shift all regions into a lockdown, which will last at least two weeks in the north and at least four weeks in the rest of the province, starting Dec. 26.
But a lot of people are asking: Why the delay? If it’s urgent to put out this pandemic fire, why give the blaze a five-day head start?
That’s a reasonable question, though the better question is: Why didn’t the Ford government act last week, or two weeks ago? Monday’s virus forecasts from the province’s science table are hardly a surprise. It’s been clear where case numbers could be heading. And Christmas and New Year’s arrive the same time every year.
It’s understandable that the Ford government wanted to give businesses time to prepare. But the best way to have done that would have been to announce the shutdown earlier – and have it start before Christmas.
What else must Ontario do? Have more and faster testing, especially in communities with high case rates, such as Peel, and at essential businesses. Ring-fence long-term care homes and seniors’ residences with more testing to lower the odds of caregivers importing cases of COVID-19. And speed up the push to get every LTC resident out of a ward and into a private room, which will cut down on transmission and lower mortality for the people most at risk.
While the COVID-19 battle is going less than well in Ontario, the province is for the moment in better shape than most of the country. (Atlantic Canada is in a happy, low-infection league of its own.)
Ontario is testing more than any major province save Alberta, and even so is reporting relatively fewer cases than the rest of Canada. And Ontario’s death rate over the last week is well below the mortality rate in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec.
Spring is coming, but reports of its arrival are premature. It’s going to take patience from Canadians, and smart moves by their governments, to make it through this pandemic winter with the minimum of loss and pain.
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