Ontario Premier Doug Ford is a troubled man.
He worried out loud on Thursday that hundreds of motorcycle enthusiasts may gather on Friday in the town of Port Dover for an annual rally, and that too many people are ignoring social-distancing protocols at a time when the province keeps setting daily records for new cases of COVID-19.
“This is how the virus spreads: when we don’t follow simple public health advice,” he said.
Yes, that’s exactly what happens when people don’t follow simple public health advice. The Premier is correct.
Which is why it’s so damning that his government didn’t follow the public health advice of key public health officials when it created a colour-coded system for determining when to lock down businesses, and when to reopen them.
The system has epidemiologists scratching their heads, because the thresholds for returning to a lockdown in any Ontario public health region are so high.
In the “red” category – the last stage before a lockdown – restaurants, bars and gyms can welcome up to 10 customers indoors in regions that are seeing more than 100 new weekly cases per 100,000 people, and where more than 10 per cent of people tested for COVID-19 are found to be infected.
A region would have a catastrophe on its hands if it hit those numbers. Which explains why experts at Public Health Ontario reportedly recommended far lower thresholds for flashing the red light: 25 new weekly cases per 100,000 people, and a test-positivity rate of 2.5 per cent.
It’s also why Toronto and the suburban region of Peel have had to impose additional rules on top of the province’s overly lax system, and are closing gyms and event venues, and indoor spaces in bars and restaurants, for 28 days.
This is all very convenient for Mr. Ford, who likes to brand himself as the friend of the working person. “It’s easy for people to say just shut everything down when they’re guaranteed a paycheque every week,” he said Thursday.
In fact, there’s nothing easy or pleasant about harming a person’s livelihood. He just doesn’t want to be the one to do it. By setting dangerously high infection thresholds for closing businesses, he is forcing municipal officials to do the dirty work he’d rather not be blamed for – even though new modelling released Thursday shows Ontario could double or even quadruple its number of new daily cases by mid-December.
Mr. Ford is passing the buck, and he’s not the only politician in Canada doing so.
This week, as the number of daily new cases topped 4,000 across the country, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged premiers not to reopen their provinces too quickly for the sake of the economy.
“We at the federal government are making it easier for provinces to do the right thing and shut down and put in restrictions," he said.
That’s true. Federal supports for laid-off workers and shuttered businesses have been a critical help.
But Mr. Trudeau’s statement misses the point that many businesses – especially bars, restaurants and gyms – won’t survive the pandemic. And in any case, none of this is in federal jurisdiction. He’s scoring political points from the safety of the peanut gallery.
There is also the fact that it’s partly the fault of Ottawa that no province has adequate testing and contact tracing. And it’s totally on Ottawa that people arriving in Canada aren’t automatically confined to secure quarantine, or tested so as to avoid the need for quarantine, as countries with lower COVID-19 rates are doing.
In Quebec, the government admitted this week that, in one key area, it knows nothing and has done nothing. The province has no data about the state of its schools’ ventilation systems, nor has it done anything to ensure that poor air circulation doesn’t increase the risk of infection.
To date, 1,174 Quebec classrooms have been hit with COVID-19 cases this fall, and Premier François Legault is pondering closing schools again, which would be a devastating blow to parents.
That’s where the buck always stops with COVID-19: with the people who pay the taxes to support the bailouts, who hunker down and stay home, who can’t visit dying family members, who cancel weddings and skip family gatherings, and who rely on governments to manage the pandemic in a smart and disinterested way – but who keep being let down.
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