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EDITORIAL: Ford flailing as COVID numbers spike (Nov. 2020)

December 4th, 2020 · No Comments

Ontario’s Auditor General (AG) Bonnie Lysyk recently released a report sharply criticizing the province’s COVID-19 response. The report details a litany of failures by the government and its approach to dealing with the crisis. While some see her timing as unhelpful, to be critical as the proverbial ship is sinking, others see an opportunity to right the boat. 

Among other things, the Auditor General said that Ontario’s measures were “slower and more reactive relative to most other provinces.” Lysyk said the province appears to have learned little from the SARS outbreak in 2003 – the SARS Commission said that taking decisive action early was key. 

Though the province wisely declared an emergency on March 17, ahead of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, it then went into neutral gear hiring an outside consultant who took weeks to recommend what is now a health command table of 500 people. The AG describes this as “overly cumbersome,” and subordinate to cabinet. By May, thirty-four medical officers of health in Ontario had jointly prepared and signed a letter begging the province for more direction and regional consistency. That direction ought to have come from Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Medical Officer of Health, who Lysyk says has not fully exercised his powers under the Health Protection and Promotion Act. 

Confusion and inconsistency continues to reign supreme and the recent move by the Ford government to order 28-day lockdowns in hotspots such as Toronto and Peel regions is yet another example. 

The examples go on, such as the premier’s announcement on Friday Nov 20 that ordered malls to shut their doors on November 22. This triggered a panicked shopping spree which will no doubt lead to a significant jump in cases. They could, and should have said that malls needed to shut “effective immediately.” What will happen on Dec 20 when the lockdown ends and the malls re-open five days before Christmas? Another case of crowds surging to shop. Doug Ford has created a public health inspired lockdown with COVID-rich book ends. 

Meanwhile the province is struggling to do effective contact tracing. Sixty percent of new infections in Ontario have no epidemiological link. More testing of asymptomatic people including students mingling in schools and on playgrounds would narrow the gap considerably. Keeping schools open defies reason if one has a singular goal of driving case numbers below a transmission rate of 1.0. 

The decision to close main street retail to indoor shopping and leave big box stores wide open is prejudicial. It makes no sense to force everyone into a crowded cue at Walmart. The decision to prohibit restaurants and bars from serving outdoors is offensive given that health authorities just gave those establishments guidelines for how they can serve safely. Food establishments have spent millions  on partial enclosures, heaters, and contact tracing systems. There is no contact tracing in big box stores.

The auditor general repeatedly took issue with Ontario’s COVID response as not being driven by health professionals or as Doug Ford likes to say “the smartest minds in the world.” The AG was unable to obtain a copy of Williams’ advice to the government to see how closely cabinet is following those recommendations. It’s telling that the Ford government would rather not release that document and prefers having a Chief Medical Officer of Health who is quite content to sit on his hands. 

The AG’s report is not a footnote in history, it is critical to moving forward with effective decision making in this crisis, and those to yet to come.

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