Ford must share full COVID-19 plan — now

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - OPINION -

With the war on COVID-19 nowhere near to be­ing won, the On­tario gov­ern­ment made a promis­ing start this week in launch­ing a new au­tumn of­fen­sive against it.

But have no doubt. As wel­come as the new ini­tia­tives an­nounced Tues­day and Wed­nes­day un­doubt­edly are, they’re only a start, mere baby steps on a 1,000-kilo­me­tre jour­ney.

And un­for­tu­nately, while Premier Doug Ford says he’s read­ied a full-blown plan to get us where we need to go, he’s drag­ging his feet in shar­ing all the de­tails with the peo­ple of this prov­ince. Why, oh why, are On­tar­i­ans still wait­ing for some­thing so cru­cial to their health, wel­fare and peace of mind?

To be sure, Ford’s plan to dra­mat­i­cally boost the num­ber of sea­sonal flu in­oc­u­la­tions is a step in the right di­rec­tion. The prov­ince will spend $70 mil­lion to buy 5.1 mil­lion doses of the flu vac­cine — 700,000 doses more than last year. While Ford’s crit­ics ar­gue COVID-19 should be his pri­or­ity, the premier is wise to step up the fight against sea­sonal flu. That scourge claims an av­er­age of 3,500 Cana­dian lives ev­ery year.

Cana­dian pub­lic health of­fi­cials fear flu sea­son could ex­act an even dead­lier toll this year be­cause of the COVID-19 pan­demic. They warn of a pos­si­ble “twindemic” where hospi­tals are over­whelmed try­ing to deal both with COVID-19 cases and peo­ple suf­fer­ing from sea­sonal flu.

The value of bol­ster­ing On­tario’s long-es­tab­lished flu vac­ci­na­tion pro­gram is that it should re­sult in more peo­ple be­ing in­oc­u­lated, fewer peo­ple with sea­sonal flu clog­ging hospi­tal emer­gency rooms and greater med­i­cal re­sources be­ing freed up to bat­tle COVID-19. This, above all years, is the time for ev­ery On­tar­ian who pos­si­bly can to be vac­ci­nated.

There are rea­sons, how­ever, to be less con­fi­dent this gov­ern­ment can fi­nally ad­dress one of the most se­ri­ous on­go­ing prob­lems in the pan­demic — meet­ing the ever-ris­ing de­mand for quick COVID-19 test­ing. Part of On­tario’s fall pan­demic readi­ness plan will see COVID-19 test­ing be­gun in phar­ma­cies, with as many as 60 phar­ma­cies across the prov­ince pro­vid­ing these tests as of Fri­day.

That can only be an im­prove­ment over the frus­trat­ingly slow and dan­ger­ously in­ef­fi­cient sys­tem On­tar­i­ans have been deal­ing with for months as the de­mand for tests rou­tinely ex­ceeded the sup­ply.

Ford long ago set a goal of pro­vid­ing 50,000 tests a day. He’s never come close to hit­ting that tar­get. And con­sid­er­ing that on Mon­day, 35,436 tests were con­ducted, the prov­ince still has a steep hill to climb. It’s a fair ques­tion whether 60 phar­ma­cies or even twice that num­ber can make up the gap of nearly 15,000 daily tests.

Mean­while, Ford’s to-do list is even longer.

The pub­lic is still wait­ing to see this gov­ern­ment de­liver on one of its other prom­ises — to pro­vide greater pro­tec­tion for the res­i­dents of On­tario’s longterm-care homes where the over­whelm­ing num­ber of COVID-19 deaths have oc­curred. This week, a group rep­re­sent­ing the prov­ince’s long-term-care in­dus­try told the gov­ern­ment many homes are not pre­pared to han­dle a sec­ond wave.

Given this trou­bling state of af­fairs, along with on­go­ing and well-founded con­cerns about On­tario’s school re­open­ings, the slow roll­out of Ford’s fall pan­demic readi­ness plan is un­ac­cept­able. The gov­ern­ment says it’s had this plan ready since July. All right. Give it to us.

As each day passes, the like­li­hood On­tario is in the sec­ond wave of COVID-19 grows. As each week passes, our abil­ity to cope with such a surge shrinks, even with more flu shots.

Let’s see your full plan, Mr. Premier, and let’s see it acted upon — now.

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