Ontario releases “framework” for lifting lockdown, but no dates

“It’s a roadmap it’s not a calendar,” said Premier Doug Ford. “We’ve come so far, we don’t want to give up. Right now we have to keep following the protocol.”

On a day that Ontario saw one of the highest numbers of deaths since a state of emergency was declared on COVID-19, Doug Ford released the province’s “framework” for lifting the lockdown and reopening the economy.

But those expecting specific dates will be disappointed. The framework sets out the how but not the when. And that will happen in stages that will be assessed every two to four weeks.

Stage one will include “select workplaces that can meet current public health guidelines” and “some outdoor spaces.” Stage two will include “workplaces with significant mitigation plans” as well as the opening of more public spaces. It’s only when we get to stage three that the province will relax restrictions on public gatherings. But again, there are no dates.

“It’s a roadmap it’s not a calendar,” said Premier Doug Ford. “We’ve come so far, we don’t want to give up. Right now we have to keep following the protocol.”

Ford added that the province won’t set hard dates until it’s ready but suggested under questioning from reporters that it may not be until the end of summer before sporting events and other public gatherings like concerts will be allowed, if at all.

“Progress doesn’t mean we can quit now,” he said. “I won’t set hard dates until we’re ready. They must be controlled and they must be measured.”

How Ontario will move forward will be determined by strict criteria set out by the province’s medical officer of health.

The criteria will include seeing a decrease in daily cases (which is starting to happen), maintaining hospital capacity, the ability of public health units to contact 90 per cent of new cases within 24 hours and expanded testing to surveil the virus. It’s unclear where we are on the last two on that list.

On the question of hospital capacity, Health Minister Christine Elliott offered that Ontario is in good enough position right now to start thinking about rescheduling elective surgeries which were postponed.

“The good news is that the number of new cases is declining,” she said.

It’s also true, however, that Ontario is only now experiencing the peak period for COVID-19. And that is expected to last for several more weeks, based on the experience of other jurisdictions.

While Quebec announced today that it will be opening schools and daycares on May 11, Ford reiterated that he didn’t want to open too early and see a “spike” in cases later.

He came back again and again to the importance of Ontarians to keep playing by the social distancing rules.

“Nobody wants to open the economy more than me,” he said. “We’re getting there.”

The province announced yesterday that publicly-funded schools would stay closed at least until May 31. Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, provinces with much fewer cases of the virus, are also developing plans to reopen.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked at his daily briefing this morning about provincial plans to lift the lockdown and whether a federal framework should be in place before that happens. He said that he didn’t want to impose federal rules on provincial areas of jurisdiction, but that whatever plans the provinces have should proceed gradually.

He noted that science is still out on the virus and in particular on whether humans can even build up an immunity to it. “It would not be prudent to base our actions on herd immunity,” he said.

There has been much written about “herd immunity,” which is the idea that if you allow the virus to run its course that humans will eventually develop an immunity to it.

But science tells us that there a number of problems with that theory as it relates to COVID-19. Countries that have tried it during this pandemic – or some semblance of it – have also experienced the highest rates of mortality. 

It’s also unclear for how long immunity will last if indeed there is one to COVID-19. For most coronaviruses that’s a year. But in South Korea, for example, some 140 patients who had the virus and then recovered, have tested positive again.

Also, as long as there are vulnerable people with underlying medical issues that are susceptible to the virus, “we’re not immune,” says University of Toronto SARS specialist Anna Banerji.

The PM evoked the flu pandemic of 1918 to drive his point home about not opening the economy too soon. The initial wave of that pandemic in the spring was followed by a second more deadly wave in the fall after the quarantine was lifted.


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