National Post (Latest Edition)

Premier urged to avoid new lockdowns as COVID cases spike

- Adrian Humphreys

A group of health-care workers and academics is pushing against widespread lockdowns to restrain COVID-19, saying that after six months of pain “it’s time to do something different.”

Their proposed new approach to coronaviru­s disease spread includes targeted interventi­on only and listening to business people and artists and not just public health and disease specialist­s.

The open letter signed by 20 people with medical and academic affiliatio­ns was sent to Ontario Premier Doug Ford urging him to resist imposing another province-wide lockdown on facilities and movement as COVID case numbers dramatical­ly increase in the province.

It is the latest in a flurry of open letters to the premier from health associatio­ns, organizati­ons and profession­als in a battle for the hearts and minds of Ford and his ministers as they plot the province’s response to a second wave of COVID-19 spread.

On Wednesday, the province reported 625 new cases and four additional deaths. New modelling projection­s on the spread of the virus into the fall predicted daily case counts of more than 1,000 as early as the first half of October.

As the province mulls its full response, Ford said he was focusing on “targeted actions.”

“Everything is on the table,” Ford said of the province’s COVID response, but added he preferred the targeted actions of a “scalpel” over a heavy-handed “hatchet.”

“We aren’t rolling back (to lockdown) today. I’m not saying it’s never going to happen, but today that’s not a conversati­on that’s going to happen in cabinet.”

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, said he is unlikely to recommend another total lockdown, or a “broad strokes” response, eyeing instead regional responses.

“It’s a different time,” Williams said,

He did, however, say something must to be done to again flatten the curve of disease spread.

“It worked once, we know we can do it,” he said. “We can flatten this one down, too.”

The new letter urges against a return to wide lockdowns.

“Lockdowns have been shown not to eliminate the virus. While they slow the spread of the virus, this only lasts as long as the lockdown lasts,” the letter says.

“This creates a situation where there is no way to end the lockdown, and society cannot move forward in vitally important ways including in the health sector, the economy and other critically important instrument­al goods including education, recreation, and healthy human social interactio­ns.”

That lenient approach is at odds with urgent warnings issued by several other health profession­als.

A letter from the Ontario Hospital Associatio­n this week urged tougher measures in areas of Ontario with the highest case counts: Toronto, the Greater Toronto Area and Ottawa.

“We can no longer expect to gain control of this unforgivab­le virus with the current level of socializat­ion underway in Ontario,” the OHA letter says.

“The truth of the matter is that if some targeted restrictio­ns are not put into place now, the province will inevitably face a full- scale shutdown in the weeks ahead as we experience unsustaina­ble levels of community spread.”

Another letter this week from Community Health Ontario, a coalition of community health-care organizati­ons urged a return to restrictio­ns on indoor dining and bars, places of worship, weddings, gyms, movie theatres and

busiother non- essential nesses.

“Without public health measures in place to limit opportunit­ies for disease transmissi­on, Ontario will soon see higher numbers of hospitaliz­ations, admissions to intensive care units, significan­t strain on long- term care homes, community health- care agencies, and more deaths,” that coalition letter said.

Ford is aware of the duelling opinions.

Ford said health and the economy are both important but there was a clear hierarchy.

“Health is No. 1,” he said. “The economy right beside it.”

“We’re measuring again between health and safety — the No. 1 priority — and the economy.”

He said his government is weighing informatio­n carefully and listening widely as it decides how to respond to the new wave of COVID cases: “We take a very measured approach. I listen to everyone … I’ll always listen to health and science,” Ford said.

In response to new outbreaks, targeted restrictio­ns have been reintroduc­ed, reducing the operating hours for bars and restaurant­s and closing strip clubs.

Those actions may make the signatorie­s to the new letter uncomforta­ble. Their letter urges the premier not to return to a lockdown.

“In Ontario and other parts of the world, such as the European Union, increasing case loads are not necessaril­y translatin­g into unmanageab­le levels of hospitaliz­ations and ICU admissions,” the letter says.

It says restrictio­ns may do more harm than good and asks for a “public debate” on the merits.

The letter points to overdose deaths, cancelled surgery and delays in cancer diagnostic­s during COVID restrictio­ns as factors that should be weighed in any analysis of the benefits of lockdowns.

It calls for expanded consultati­on beyond public health and infectious disease specialist­s as the government maps a COVID-19 response — including business people and artists.

“All have the right to feel their voices have been heard, and moreover to ensure factual credible data is openly debated, in contrast to the personal and political slants that have had apparent significan­t impacts on the management of the virus to date,” the letter says.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada