Could Canada take an­other lock­down?

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - STUART THOMSON Na­tional Post sx­thom­son@post­media.com Twit­ter: stu­ar­tx­thom­son

How are we go­ing to han­dle a sec­ond wave? It’s a ques­tion gov­ern­ments across the coun­try are ner­vously con­tem­plat­ing as Canada eases into a sum­mer down­swing of the COVID-19 out­break and pre­pares for a po­ten­tial resur­gence in the fall.

Canada’s re­sponse to a sec­ond wave de­pends pri­mar­ily on how well we pre­pare right now, said Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau on Thurs­day. That means in­creas­ing test­ing in hard-hit ar­eas and con­tain­ing any out­breaks that crop up.

“We know par­tic­u­larly in those ar­eas that are still work­ing to get the spread of the virus un­der con­trol it is go­ing to be im­por­tant to in­crease test­ing now... but also make sure that as we move for­ward through the sum­mer and into the fall, we are ready to act ex­tremely quickly, so that the pop­u­la­tion at large won’t be in sit­u­a­tions of hav­ing to go back into con­fine­ment,” said Trudeau. “But that de­pends on cit­i­zens do­ing their part, and also de­pends on hav­ing that test­ing ca­pac­ity.”

There is an un­easy feel­ing among some pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments that peo­ple won’t re­act well to schools and day­cares be­ing opened and closed sev­eral times, even if that’s nec­es­sary to bat­tle a sec­ond wave of the virus. A sec­ond round of stay-at-home or­ders will be an es­pe­cially hard sell, es­pe­cially in ar­eas like Al­berta and Saskatchew­an where the econ­omy was al­ready in trou­ble.

“No one in Canada still alive is used to these types of sac­ri­fices or public pol­icy moral quan­daries,” said an On­tario gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial who was not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly about the is­sue.

“Things will not be nor­mal un­til we get a vac­cine.”

The On­tario gov­ern­ment is con­sid­er­ing a va­ri­ety of cre­ative mea­sures, in­clud­ing co­hort strate­gies at work­places, which would put peo­ple into des­ig­nated groups and al­low them to iso­late if one mem­ber of the group gets sick. And be­cause phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing rules will have to be en­forced at day­cares, the gov­ern­ment has dis­cussed a lottery sys­tem to de­cide who will be able to get the di­min­ished num­ber of spots. Next win­ter could bring manda­tory mask or­ders for any­one in public.

If the pan­demic con­tin­ues to reach into vir­tu­ally all as­pects of hu­man life and strikes again with seem­ing ran­dom­ness, it could wreak havoc with the men­tal health of Cana­di­ans.

“An is­sue of con­cern is, the longer this drags out, the more re­stric­tions are ap­plied, then lifted, then ap­plied, the more peo­ple are go­ing to get so­cial dis­tanc­ing fa­tigue, and we can prob­a­bly ex­pect to see an in­crease of non-com­pli­ance with so­cial dis­tanc­ing,” said Steven Tay­lor, a psy­chol­o­gist at UBC and an ex­pert in the psy­chol­ogy of pan­demics.

“Peo­ple are re­silient and will even­tu­ally adapt to new re­stric­tions, but it’s im­por­tant that they have a re­al­is­tic idea of how long it’s go­ing to last. That re­quires good data to fore­cast the tra­jec­tory of the pan­demic and gov­ern­ments will­ing to level with their cit­i­zens,” said Tay­lor.

Clues are pil­ing up about how gov­ern­ments plan to bat­tle a sec­ond wave of the novel coro­n­avirus in the face of a pop­u­la­tion weary of lock­downs.

“There’s an over­whelm­ing sense in­ter­nally that peo­ple won’t take to a sec­ond lock­down,” said the of­fi­cial in the On­tario gov­ern­ment.

“One thing is for cer­tain we need to give the public some free­dom or they won’t ac­cept even ba­sic lim­its.”

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said Thurs­day that he had no plans to lock the coun­try down again and would, in­stead, tackle hotspots as they arise.

“Peo­ple say that’s a very dis­tinct pos­si­bil­ity, it’s stan­dard, and we’re gonna put out the fires,” Trump said, when asked about a sec­ond wave of the virus. “We’re not go­ing to close the coun­try, we’re go­ing to put out the fires. There could be, whether it’s an em­ber or a flame, we’re gonna put it out. But we’re not clos­ing our coun­try.”

A pa­per pub­lished in Sci­ence, one of the world’s top aca­demic jour­nals, by a team from Har­vard, eval­u­ated a po­ten­tial sec­ond wave and how gov­ern­ments may re­act to it.

To pre­vent the health care sys­tem from get­ting over­whelmed, the pa­per rec­om­mends thresh­olds for when strict phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing mea­sures should be put back in place. If the num­ber of in­fec­tions reaches, for ex­am­ple, 35 cases per 10,000 peo­ple, the lo­cal gov­ern­ment would reim­pose stricter mea­sures. The thresh­old would be de­ter­mined by a va­ri­ety of lo­cal fac­tors, in­clud­ing the ca­pac­ity of hos­pi­tals and the types of mea­sures that the gov­ern­ment is will­ing to put in place.

A sec­ond thresh­old would de­ter­mine when the gov­ern­ment would lift the strict mea­sures and open things up again. The ex­am­ple used in the pa­per is when cases de­cline to five cases per 10,000 peo­ple, but this would again be depen­dent on lo­cal fac­tors. A sys­tem like this would mean dif­fer­ent parts of Canada could be in dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions and each province would be tasked with mon­i­tor­ing the amount of in­fec­tions.

In Al­berta, re­stric­tions were still in place in Cal­gary while Ed­mon­ton was able to open and in Mon­treal, which was par­tic­u­larly hard hit, the city lagged be­hind the rest of the province in re-open­ing. This kind of dis­cor­dance could be a re­al­ity in Canada un­til a vac­cine is widely avail­able.

A sec­ond wave can come in a va­ri­ety of forms, too, ac­cord­ing to a study by the Cen­ter for In­fec­tious Dis­ease Re­search and Pol­icy at the Univer­sity of Min­nesota. The sce­nar­ios ex­am­ined in the pa­per in­clude a “fall peak,” which would be a mas­sive, sin­gle wave of in­fec­tions larger than the first wave, a “slow burn,” which would keep in­fec­tions on a fairly man­age­able scale, and a se­ries of “peaks and val­leys” which would bring three or four more waves about the size of the first one.

Al­though Trudeau didn’t get into de­tails about his gov­ern­ment’s plans for a sec­ond wave he said he wanted to avoid keep­ing the pop­u­la­tion “at large” from con­fine­ment. That could be an in­di­ca­tion that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is look­ing at some­thing sim­i­lar to what the team from Har­vard rec­om­mends. It’s also likely what Trump means by “putting out fires” as they erupt.

An­other con­cern among the prov­inces is there will be dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios un­fold­ing across the coun­try and the mes­sage from Ot­tawa won’t be con­sis­tent with what the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment is telling peo­ple. For ex­am­ple, when Bri­tish Columbia was en­cour­ag­ing its res­i­dents to start get­ting out­side and eas­ing re­stric­tions, Trudeau was telling them to stay home.

“I think it’s a con­cern that there’s been a bit of a mixed mes­sage com­ing from the feds,” said a se­nior of­fi­cial in the Al­berta gov­ern­ment who wasn’t au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly about the re­la­tion­ship.

The per­son made it clear that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment had a re­spon­si­bil­ity to ex­plain the pan­demic-fight­ing pro­grams that were be­ing un­veiled al­most every day, but hoped that Trudeau and his gov­ern­ment would take a sup­port­ing role as the sum­mer and fall ap­proached. Trudeau could find him­self in the un­en­vi­able po­si­tion of try­ing to is­sue public health ad­vice to peo­ple in prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries that are in wildly dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions.

“That’s gonna scram­ble the sys­tem. It’s go­ing to con­fuse peo­ple. Peo­ple are go­ing to down­play or dis­miss the mes­sages they don’t want to hear,” said Tay­lor. “So peo­ple might say, well, we’re locked down but peo­ple in the other province are out par­ty­ing. That’s go­ing to di­min­ish the cred­i­bil­ity of the last mes­sage.”

The one mes­sage that re­mains con­sis­tent, through­out fed­eral and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments, is that ev­ery­one wants to avoid an­other lengthy lock­down.

“We need to con­tinue to do ev­ery­thing we can to pre­vent the need for any fur­ther lock­downs the way we’ve had up till now,” said Trudeau.



A pa­tient is checked for COVID-19 at a drive-thru test­ing cen­tre in Cal­gary last month. Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau says Canada’s re­sponse to a sec­ond wave of the dis­ease will de­pend on how well the coun­try pre­pares right now, which means in­creas­ing test­ing in hard-hit ar­eas.

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